In the dying moments of a 2-1 defeat, Manchester United finally saw a leader join his team on the touchline and give the side instructions. The only problem is, that this leader wasn’t United manager Louis van Gaal, but his assistant manager Ryan Giggs.
United fans have grown used to watching their manager sit in the stands during the games, always writing down his notes. Some fans and pundits might use Van Gaal’s position in the stands as evidence of his lack of passion. Why won’t the manager of Manchester United get on his feet during a game that will be his sixth game in a row without a win?
Van Gaal explained earlier in his tenure that his instructions will come from the lead up to the game and that he cannot affect his players once they are in the heat of battle. Van Gaal has even discouraged his assistants from going to the touchline.
Why then was Giggs on the touchline at the end of Saturday’s game?
One possible explanation is that the once stubborn and uber-confident Van Gaal has simply changed his mind. Perhaps he finally saw that his players weren’t going to dig their way out on their own. Perhaps Van Gaal’s confidence in his own practices (or philosophy) has been shaken. This drop in confidence showed in Van Gaal’s post-game interview:
“In the 25 years of management I evaluate myself every day. I am not the same coach of 25 years ago and I always evaluate. This is why I am, or maybe I now have to say was, a very successful manager.”
The other possible explanation (in a rather extreme case) for Giggs’ presence on the touchline is that the whole world witnessed a very public betrayal and disregard of Van Gaal’s methods by his own handpicked successor.
Perhaps Giggs is finally admitting that he disagrees with the team’s tactics of using two holding midfielders to protect what has been revealed to be a very shaky defense. Maybe he disagrees with the amount of safe sideways ball possession at the cost of more risky attacking play that he’s been accustomed to over the years. Giggs might also disagree with the philosophy of positional discipline at the cost of attacking fluidity.
Of course, that’s all speculation. But remember, Giggs was a key player for several generations of United teams led by Sir Alex Ferguson, famous for their attacking never-say-die football. Former teammates of Giggs and United legends such as Gary Neville and Paul Scholes have all been publicly critical of Van Gaal’s tactics as well. Perhaps after the performance on Saturday, Giggs decided to join them.
The implications of the second reason are massive. Giggs is a highly respected member amongst the squad and could be the first sign that Van Gaal has lost the confidence of his players. Jose Mourinho was fired just this week over a “betrayal” by his players. It’s clear that once you’ve lost the players, it’s hard for any manager to get them back or keep their job.
A tweet highlighting why Bayern Munich let go of Van Gaal in 2011 is very fitting in this case.
The main men Van Gaal needs backing from to keep his job exist in board rooms, not on football pitches. Whether or not Van Gaal still has the board’s backing — especially with rumours of Mourinho being linked with United — only time will tell.