Up until yesterday morning, it was unthinkable to discuss the future of Manchester United Football Club without mentioning Ryan Giggs. After a brief spell in the dugout during the final stages of the 2013/14 season, the Welshman was hired by current manager Louis van Gaal as Assistant Manager, a role many believe is much more akin to a managerial apprenticeship.
Indeed, one would be forgiven for assuming the Glazers had already signed the papers with Van Gaal’s attitude to the situation suggesting it’s a forgone conclusion. It seems every time LVG is probed regarding the future of the club, he’s adamant Ryan Giggs will be the man to replace him on the touchline.
However, while LVG’s mind is made up, that of the Manchester United fan base certainly isn’t. While everyone would agree that if it worked, it would be the greatest football story ever told, the debate lies firmly on the probability of success in the aforementioned “if”.
Despite the fact he is arguably the greatest player to ever play for the club, and universally loved around Old Trafford, the cold truth is that no one but Louis van Gaal actually has any idea whether he will be a good manager or not. His role as assistant will undoubtedly serve him well but there’s no precedent to assume that capability as an assistant translates to capability as a manager.
Before this morning, if it was my decision, I’d have been very tempted to appoint Giggs. While there is no concrete evidence he would be a success, there are very strong suggestions that he would be, not the least of which from LVG and Sir Alex Ferguson. These suggestions, added to the enormous potential of such an appointment and the financial clout the club possess to right the ship if it fails, would’ve been enough to convince me that Giggs is the right choice. But that was before yesterday morning.
That was before Gary Neville took charge of Valencia.
The transformation of public opinion regarding Neville as he transformed from player to pundit to coach to manager was truly remarkable. Sky Sports’ decision to hire Neville was met with almost unanimous skepticism and dislike. However, a few shows in people began to hesitate.
Gone, it seemed, was the indignant, argumentative, mustache wearing wanker those outside of Manchester knew to be Gary Neville. “Where was the Gary Neville we knew and didn’t love?” cried the English public. No longer did viewers witness a man flipping the bird to the crowd or ferociously hunting down the referee, mustache trembling with every hurled obscenity. No, this was a Gary Neville reborn from the ashes of the bonfire the public wished to throw him on. This was a mustache-free Gary.
Week after week, Neville dazzled sofa audiences with surprising amounts of intelligence, tactical nous, and wit. Not only did he quickly establish himself as the best pundit in England, it could be argued that by merit of his MNF performances, he single handedly raised the tactical understanding of the average English football fan. This wasn’t just another ex-pro relying on outdated anecdotes and football clichés to get through the halftime interval. This was somebody who knew what they were doing.
Though, punditry is much easier than actually coaching, but it seemed one coach, Roy Hodgson, was so impressed by Neville that he hired him as a coach in the England set-up. A role that, by all accounts, he has flourished and impressed in.
However, at this point in the story, it would be hard to argue that either Neville or Giggs was the better candidate. Then Neville was offered the Valencia job.
Peter Lim, part-owner of Salford City and owner of Valencia, is reportedly infatuated with Gary Neville. Having worked with him at Salford, he became so convinced of his leadership abilities that he handed him his keys to the fourth best ride in Spanish football.
However, as Guillem Balague told Sky Sports, this job will be no easy feat for Neville, and if he succeeds it will be quite remarkable. According to Balague, Valencia fans, despite lacking the financial resources and players to do so, begin every season with the expectation of winning the league and matching the level of Real Madrid and Barcelona. This is a club who recently sacked their last manager, Nuno, after he guided them to a fourth place finish last season, behind only the two Spanish giants and Atletico Madrid. This is a club who sacked Unai Emery after he finished third for three consecutive seasons. According to Balague, Peter Lim’s Valencia is the most demanding club in the world.
Like some type of Mediterranean New York City, if Neville can make it here, he can make it anywhere. If the former Manchester Untied right back and brother Phil Neville can guide a club like Valencia to success, then he will eclipse Giggs by leaps and bounds as the favourite for the Manchester United job.
It almost goes without saying, but this is nothing against Giggs’ credentials or ability. Prior to the Valencia appointment, there were many amongst the United fan base who felt Neville was a better candidate anyway, and this stemmed in large part from the fact Neville proved it to them whilst Giggs didn’t have the opportunity.
With Neville, the fans have seen a man who has an edge to him, an elite tactical intelligence, and a personality so seemingly well suited to management that it’s reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson himself at times. Gary Neville is a man you would follow into the trenches, while Ryan Giggs is a distant general, holed up in an office filing away paperwork. That’s not to say that none of the above is true of Giggs, but the fans have never seen that edge or charisma that Neville displays. This could be in large part because they haven’t had much opportunity to, but the court of public opinion makes no concessions.
However, public opinion isn’t everything and ultimately it’s the owners who hire a manager. Unfortunately for Giggs’ chances, the one thing owners value above all else is demonstrative proof, and by the time Van Gaal hangs up his notepad, Giggs will have none and if he gets it right at Valencia, Neville may just be the most sought after manager in world football.
What a time to be alive.
Neville or Giggs? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.