Sir Alex Ferguson’s assertion that Ryan Giggs could be his successor has a familiar and ominous ring to it for Manchester United supporters.
For those who lived under the Sir Matt Busby era, this potential scenario prompts one name: Wilf McGuinness.
McGuinness was a product of the club’s academy under Sir Matt Busby, yet injury scuppered an auspicious playing career after 85 appearances. Rather than cast him adrift, the club retained his services as reserve team as he was groomed to succeed Busby in 1969.
But the Mancunian was a disastrous choice. McGuinness was an in-house appointment who lasted just 18 months and prompted Busby to return from retirement for a brief spell back in the Old Trafford hot seat, sparking off a managerial merry-go-round that only stopped upon Ferguson’s arrival in 1986.
Repeating the mistake over 40 years on is the risk in appointing Giggs, who has already begun taking his coaching badges. Chief executive David Gill and club legend Sir Bobby Charlton have voiced their vigilance over avoiding such a snafu, but their voices are deafened by that of Ferguson’s.
While supporters can but dream of José Mourinho or Pep Guardiola to take over the mantle, the financial constraints via the loathed Glazer family hamper chances of a marquee arrival, and this is where Ferguson will influence his savvy. His tyranny at the club may continue beyond his managerial career and into the boardroom - where Busby too lurked, much to the chagrin of a string of successors.
Only Ferguson appreciated Busby prolonging his Old Trafford career in a different capacity. The elder Scot’s pipe smoke wandering through the corridors of power became a part of the history Ferguson inhaled during those fruitless first three-and-a-half-years at the club. The iron fist wielding a sledgehammer seeking advice from the iron fist in the velvet glove.
Such a relationship would be pivotal for Giggs if he was to replace his manager of 21 years. The Welshman is a cost-efficient appointment who Ferguson knows and has doted on since he was 14-years-old. A bona fide club legend, his impact as a substitute in recent years indicates his perceptiveness from the bench as he identifies methods to effect a game; a crucial quality for a budding coach.
On the subject of super substitutes, Ferguson also namechecked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, fresh from the success of guiding Molde to their first ever league title. The Norwegian, like McGuinness, coached United’s reserves before fleeing the Mancunian nest after 14 years in M16, but enjoyed instant and historic success.
Effectively an adopted Manc judging by his accent (his children are, in his own words, ‘proper Mancs’), he would be another economical replacement with Ferguson’s personal blessing. Still the ‘20LEGEND’ banner adorns the Stretford End as supporters continue to chant his name, while his noteworthy achievement in Scandinavia was trumpeted by ex-teammates.
Then there is David Moyes. A fellow Glaswegian, he is a de facto member of Ferguson’s extended football family and his relative success on a bare-bones budget with Everton has drawn many admirers. A near ten-year tenure at Goodison Park marks him out as a rare commodity in modern football, and loyalty is one of Ferguson’s main mantras.
Despite the collective qualities the aforementioned trio hold, the appointment of either would further illustrate United’s declining stock. A combination of Ferguson’s ingenuity and the regression of English football has earned the team a reprieve domestically, European pretensions however were deeply misguided.
Mourinho and Guardiola have won the last three Champions Leagues and that sequence will likely be extended to four in May. Ferguson has repeatedly voiced his dismay at winning just two European Cups in the 18 years since United re-entered the competition under his stewardship, and yet he has shown a lack of alacrity in addressing that. Giggs, Solskjaer or Moyes won’t magically deliver a fourth triumph on the continent for purportedly The Biggest Club In The World™.
Irrespective of the club’s ownership whenever Ferguson rides (or slumps) into the sunset, his presence in an official capacity would undermine his replacement’s already daunting task. Much as he revels in his ‘power and control’ at the club, it will be difficult enough to exorcise his ghost when he is gone, let alone him lurking behind every corner like the grim reaper.
Not on Europa League duty in Amsterdam tonight, Giggs may nevertheless accomplish another milestone in the immediate future:
The Welshman already has the blessing of another legendary United man: