Ryan Giggs finished his association with Manchester United as the club’s assistant manager at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Having made more appearances for the club than any other player, Giggs held the role of interim manager for the final few games of the 2013-14 campaign after the sacking of David Moyes. He ranked the moment he walked out on to the Old Trafford turf in a suit, as the manager of the club he had grown up supporting, as one of the proudest in his life.
Giggs was chosen by Louis van Gaal to be his no.2 when he was appointed as the permanent replacement for Moyes but likely didn’t have the impact he would have hoped for.
The football that Van Gaal employed was the opposite of what Giggs had experienced in the 24 seasons he was in the first team. Some sections of the support criticised Giggs for not doing more to change this, while others acknowledged he didn’t have the final say on the tactics.
The Dutchman was very clear in his possession obsessed methods and was averse to any risk taking. Giggs must have been left scratching his head when he saw how rigidly the manager instructed the players to stick to this way of playing.
Giggs’ last appearance on the touchline was in the 2016 FA Cup final. In extra-time, with the scoreline 1-1 between United and Crystal Palace, Chris Smalling was sent off and United had to try and win the game with 10 men.
It was Giggs who was out of his seat, imploring the United end to get behind the team and barking instructions to the players on the pitch. There won’t have been many people prouder than Giggs when fellow academy graduate, Jesse Lingard, scored a cracking goal to win the trophy.
While Giggs has appeared as a pundit since leaving United and been linked with managerial positions elsewhere, life has been fairly quiet for him. In the face of the criticism he received from some sections of the United support for not doing more to save the fans from having to endure the awful football of the Van Gaal reign, he has largely stayed quiet.
However, this week, he has spoken out about some of the decisions the Dutchman made that he did not agree with.
“There have been a lot who have come through that haven’t been United players and also players who were United players and shouldn’t have left,” Giggs told The Times.
“I’m talking about Rafael, Welbeck, Jonny Evans — players who are United through and through.
“It was hard because Louis had his own ideas and you had to respect that, but, yes, we had a few arguments about a couple of them. He understood [my position] because I had played with those lads, but they just weren’t for him.”
These were players who were largely popular with the fanbase and who, if Sir Alex Ferguson had been manager, but would have spent the majority of their career, if not their entire career, at Old Trafford.
Welbeck has suffered badly with injuries since leaving United but, now in his fourth season at Arsenal, has only scored 13 Premier League goals for the club. He wasn’t happy with how far he fell down the pecking order at United but hasn’t enjoyed much better fortune at Arsenal, having started just 39 of the 64 appearances he’s had in the league.
Rafael was injury-prone but United supporters loved his fighting spirit. He always turned up in the big games and would go head to head with any rival player. Pictures of him squaring up to Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez do the rounds on social media whenever United fans discuss him. He’s now in his third season at Lyon.
Evans had been tipped to be the future United captain once upon a time and his performances in the 2011-12 saw him hailed as one of the best young centre-backs in the country. He has since gone on to captain West Brom and was the subject of several rejected bids from Manchester City in the summer.
None of these players would have been superstars at United but the sentimentality of Ferguson, and Giggs, means they would have been kept around far longer if Van Gaal hadn’t been making the decisions. United’s success has always been built around having players in the squad who love the club and give their all every time they play. The likes of Nicky Butt, Wes Brown, John O’Shea or Phil Neville rarely stole the show but they turned up when called upon to help United win trophies.
When looking at Evans and Rafael in particular, you have to look at the players United currently have as squad options in these positions. Is Darmian better than Rafael? Are Smalling or Lindelof better than Evans? It’s arguably not just sentimentality that should have kept these players at the club, but common sense. And if Giggs had his way, they would still be at United.