There has always been an assumption that great players must make great coaches and managers. However, without the exceptions of Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany) and Johan Cruyff (Ajax and Barcelona), those regarded as the games greatest talents have never truly succeeded in the managerial hotseat.
There have, of course, been success stories at the highest level in management for those who were superb players in their prime. Recent examples can be found at modern day Barcelona, in the form of Holland and AC Milan legend Frank Rijkaard, who coached the brilliant Barcelona team which won the Champions League in 2006. His successor, Pep Guardiola, took the Catalan giants to the next level, achieving unprecedented success following his stellar career for the club and with the Spanish national team.
Again, however, for every Rijkaard and Guardiola, read Glen Hoddle and Ruud Gullit. Both equally as technically talented as the two ex-Barcelona coaches, but who ultimately flattered to deceive in top-level management. Yet, the current expectation is that former club legends will somehow be a success at managing the clubs they graced as players. Both Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi have tried and failed at AC Milan and there is a clamour for both Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba to be given coaching roles at Liverpool and Chelsea, with a view to them becoming future bosses.
In the week in which Zinedine Zidane was handed the reins at Real Madrid, It is interesting to compare the plan Madrid put in place for Zizou with the way Ryan Giggs’ coaching career at Manchester United has begun.
Following the sacking of David Moyes in April 2014, Ryan Giggs was placed in caretaker charge of Manchester United for the remaining 4 games of that season. There was every hope, amongst some supporters and commentators, that this would be the beginning of potentially a burgeoning Guardiola-type dynasty at Old Trafford. However, the club record appearance holder was overlooked for the top job and was given a place amongst Louis Van Gaal’s backroom staff.
The role Giggs was given was aimed at allowing him to learn his trade alongside one of Europe’s most successful managers, and in the long run, potentially allow Giggs to be groomed as Van Gaal’s successor. In reality, it is clear that Giggs was somewhat forced upon Van Gaal and instead acts as a secondary assistant alongside the Dutchman’s trusted aides, Marcel Bout and Albert Stuivenberg. This role has looked, from the outside, like Giggs has been isolated and is merely a link between the playing staff and the management.
The contrast between the role Giggs has been carrying out at United with the one Zinedine Zidane was handed at Real Madrid is startling. The French World Cup winner was brought into the Madrid coaching set-up in 2013-14 under the guidance of then-manager Carlo Ancelotti, his coach at Juventus. The legendary attacking midfielder was handed the role of Assistant Manager to the Italian, with some coaching responsibility, with Paul Clement doing the majority of the training ground work.
The closeness Zidane had to Ancelotti and the influence he was allowed to have amongst the first team squad is totally different to the experiences of Giggs in his role as Assistant at Old Trafford. The 2013-14 season concluded with Real Madrid winning their “La Decima” (10th European Cup), beating city rivals Atletico in the final in Lisbon. As a reward, and in a planned move to groom Zidane for the managers job at the Bernabeu, the Frenchman was appointed manager of Real Madrid Castilla at the beginning of the 2014-15 season.
The Castilla side is effectively Real Madrid’s B team or U21 side, to use the Premier League equivalent. In taking on this role, Zidane was allowed to both coach and manage a team day-in-day out and was exposed to making the tough decisions and dealing with individual players as the boss. This experience was invaluable as it was gained whilst in the working environment of the Madrid giants and allowed Zidane to experience all aspects of the club from both Youth level, below, to still having a match-day involvement with the first team, above.
Although results were mixed for Zidane, it was all about the experience. This role certainly helped shaped Zidane the coach, and the plan that was put in place, has allowed Zidane to progress from his role with Castilla to manager of Real Madrid, following Rafa Benitez’s dismissal this week. Even if Zidane does not succeed in the top job, he has certainly had the correct progression and proper grounding to ensure he has all of the experience and skills at his disposal. This pathway is one which I feel has been lost on Ryan Giggs.
If the Manchester United board were serious about considering Ryan Giggs for the managers job at Old Trafford in the future, then a real plan, such as that put in place for Zidane, should have been laid out for him. It would have been prudent for Giggs to assume control of United’s U21 side from Warren Joyce in order to cut his teeth in management at United, albeit in a less pressurised role, in which he would be allowed to make his mistakes and gain his experience.
Just like with Real Madrid, the club could have allowed Giggs to manage and coach the U21s and then be part of the first team set-up on match-days as a part of Louis Van Gaal’s trusted staff, in order to still experience and learn from the Dutchman. This would have been the ideal path for Giggs, and in keeping Nicky Butt as U21 Assistant Manager, he would have had a key friend and ally alongside him who could have helped him along in the role. Both Giggs and Butt could then have progressed upwards to becoming the first team management staff.
The reality, however, is that Giggs was forced upon Van Gaal in the summer of 2014, with the Dutchman being told he had to accept him as part of the backroom team if he wanted the managers job. This has only resulted in Giggs appearing to be solely present at matches and training, but with no real genuine responsibility. As Van Gaal’s stock has fallen this season, and with Ryan Giggs seemingly having no major role, his standing, too, has fallen. If anything, Gary Neville now managing Valencia out in Spain, has overtaken Giggs in the eyes of many when compiling a list of potential successors to Van Gaal.
As for Zidane, there is no guarantee that the experience he has gained at Real Madrid will mean one of the world’s greatest ever players will become a real top class manager. It is true to say though that his path will certainly ensure he has the tools to succeed. It is just a shame that the Manchester United board did not do something similar with English football’s most decorated player, as we may never now know whether Ryan Giggs could have replicated his success as a player in the Old Trafford hotseat.