As Manchester United’s assistant manager, and one of the foremost disciples of United’s attacking traditions, it is worth wondering how Ryan Giggs feels about all of this. At his first press conference as interim manager after David Moyes’s sacking in April 2014, he declared that United needed to rediscover their “passion, speed, tempo and imagination”. He wanted players to “enjoy and express themselves” and to see “goals, tackles, players taking players on and getting the crowd up… I want the passion that should come with being a Manchester United player,” he said.
Fast forward to February 2015, when Louis van Gaal spoke about his philosophy on training his players after being questioned about the form of a struggling Angel Di Maria: “My belief, and the belief of the board, is when you do things with your conscience [consciously] then it shall be better. But at the end every player has to do each task with intuition, because that is the process. He needs to go through that process and at the end he shall be much better.” It’s perhaps not quite the rip-roaring firebrand football that Giggs would want.
No one is suggesting that Giggs is ready to rebel, even if must be a little disheartening for the Welshman to hear his friend, former team mate and Salford City co-owner Paul Scholes say that he would ‘not enjoy’ playing for van Gaal and that United played with ‘no risk or creativity’. Giggs, who the Dutchman believes will be his successor as manager, has spoken not only of his admiration and respect for Van Gaal, but also how he was ‘not ready’ to take over United after he took charge of the final four games of the 2013-14 season. However, when Van Gaal retires as expected at the end of the 2016-17 season, Giggs is likely to be the leading contender to replace him.
Until then, though, we are back to the bumpy reality of the current predicament. Unfortunately there has been scant evidence of Giggs’s preferred brand of football this season. With a few notable exceptions, the football has been sluggish, the players hesitant. Goals have been hard to come by. It’s been almost 25 years since Manchester United last went four games without scoring a goal. Back then, Sir Alex Ferguson’s solution was to buy Eric Cantona from Leeds. For Louis van Gaal, the next best thing would probably be to have Wayne Rooney score a hat-trick, and then never have to talk about him again.
The United manager may be exasperated by the constant questions surrounding his captain’s form, but a feeling of frustration is something an awful lot of people connected to the club could be feeling at the moment. It is frustrating that Rooney cannot find his touch and form, frustrating that Anthony Martial was been inexplicably shunted away from goal when he remains the only threatening striker in United’s ranks.
Prior him finally being moved into the middle tonight against CSKA, Martial’s period of exile to the left hand side remains a puzzling act of Van Gaal’s thinking. When the teenager played an inch-perfect through ball to his captain against Palace, putting Rooney right through on goal, it was oddly frustrating that he wasn’t passing to his clone; Rooney, shorn of that extra yard of pace, simply couldn’t get there in time. It remains to be seen whether Rooney can rediscover his form first, or if Van Gaal finally gives in and drops him. Considering the stubbornness of both , you’d have to bet on the former.