Ryan Giggs chatted to Culture Trip about getting into management, as well as adjusting to life away from Manchester United now that the only affiliation he has with the club is his support.
This season has been the first time in 30 years that club legend Giggs isn’t involved with Manchester United in some capacity. Having joined the club as an academy player in 1987, the Welsh winger now finds himself ready, willing and qualified to take the step into full-time management, but tellingly, prepared to wait for the right job to present itself.
From talking with him, it is abundantly clear he is ready to step into a managerial role. There are no jagged, knee-jerk reactions to being out the game, there are no itchy feet. The 42-year-old started his coaching badges over a decade ago and while his name gets bandied about any time various vacancies become available, there is a healthy degree of patience from the man himself.
‘I was ready to retire when I did; it came as a little bit of a relief actually,’ Giggs says, speaking in Cairo at the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour. ‘You put your body through that eating, sleeping, not drinking alcohol, preparing yourself mentally for games. I’m enjoying life at the moment. It’s the first time in my life where I’ve not put myself under pressure.
‘I’m relaxed about it really. I’ve done all my badges – which was seven or eight years – and had two years under Louis (van Gaal), which was a brilliant education. I feel like I’ve done my apprenticeship. If the right club and the right chairman comes along, I’ll be ready. If not, I’m happy as I am.’
Giggs has kept himself busy since parting ways with Manchester United, whether it be through the various business ventures he has, part ownership of Salford City, punditry or ambassadorial roles, such as the one he’s performing at the moment with UEFA at the Champions League Trophy Tour.
The lazy criticism thrown at ex-players looking to step into management is that their status as top players ensures they get the best jobs, even over lesser-known managers with more experience. For Giggs, the feeling is quite the opposite.
‘It can stop you getting jobs. It can hinder, not help,’ he says. ‘People don’t know you as a coach and it doesn’t matter what level the job is. It frustrates me when you hear people say, ‘You can just expect to walk into any job.’ Well, I think it works against us actually. They see the player rather than the coach. That’s understandable because I was playing for so long and only coached for two years. But I started my badges when I was 30.’
There have been discussions – in varying degrees of depth – with a number of clubs, although he only confirms the identity of one, Swansea City. What seems to stand Giggs apart from others in a similar position is a professional restraint. This is not to say he is not eager to become a manager; it’s clear from his change in tone when he discusses it that he is more than ready, but the offer must be the right one.
‘Obviously I’ve got more experience in the Premier League because I spent so much time there, but it really doesn’t matter to me,’ he says. ‘What’s most important is the philosophy of the club, the chairman and the club itself. I’d rather go into a decent League One or Championship team, who’ve got the right ideas and the right aspirations, instead of a Premier League team who haven’t.’
The four games he managed Manchester United in a caretaker role in 2014, after the sacking of David Moyes, were an eye-opener.
‘I wanted to give everyone a game, give them some freedom,’ Giggs says. ‘Looking back that was probably the wrong decision because we lost against Sunderland and that’s the one I remember, because of the result and mistakes I made. I mentioned about badges and being prepared, but those two-and-a-half weeks were better than any badges. You’re there, you’re living it. Everyone’s looking at you. I loved it – apart from the defeat, obviously.’
‘That adrenaline, that day-to-day looking after the players. Does that player need a bollocking? Does that one need an arm around him? How you manage your staff. You can see why people get hooked and why managers get let go but still come back.’
After those four games in the hot seat came two seasons as van Gaal’s assistant. Giggs wouldn’t have swapped the “very intense” experience for anything. He says, ‘It was tough, but in a good way. He was so focused. The detail, the way he looked at the game, I’d never really seen that before. The way he prepared was the best education I could ever have had. It was two years but it was like spending five years with someone else.
‘I’ve got the utmost respect for him because I’ve seen first hand how he worked. He is a hard taskmaster, especially with his staff. And he didn’t know me beforehand – I met him once, just after he got the job and we immediately got on. He gave me that responsibility of going out every day and coaching the team, but he was the boss and he controlled everything. It was good, because you had your own job but he made the big, final decisions. It was a good way of working.’
It is virtually impossible for a manager to find their perfect job, especially when it comes to a first full-time role. Giggs is well aware that any job will come with compromises from both sides; it’s the delicate matter of balancing those out, particularly in such a volatile and ruthless environment.
‘It’s a minefield out there,’ he says. ‘Very easily your reputation can be ruined in that first job. It’s important for me to pick the right one. Good managers have failed simply because of injured players or luck, but you back yourself and your ability.’
In an industry where decisions can be the difference between failure and success, it appears Giggs is already making the right ones before he’s even started.