Giggsy gets the gig

To the surprise of nobody Ryan Giggs is the new Wales manager. It is the obvious appointment, and also the correct one. He was, after all, not just a fabulous footballer but the most successful in English League history (13 titles) as well as the most decorated player in the entire worldwide annals of the club game (34 trophies), while in a 24-year playing career at Old Trafford, in which he set the club’s League appearance record (672), he learnt whatever he might know about football management from Alex Ferguson, the most successful manager of all time (38 trophies). That’s some footballing CV, quite unmatchable by any other person on the planet. He is the ultimate winner. It was a no-brainer for the FAW and, in my view, we’re very fortunate, honoured even, to have him. I am so keen I’m even prepared to overlook the OBE and those games he played for ‘Team GB’ at the 2012 Olympics.

It’s not as if he needs the money, let alone the hassle. The FAW, solvent for the first time following the Euro 2016 windfall, has pushed the boat out to pay a £500,000 annual salary – but to Giggs, a millionaire since he was 20 and with an estimated net worth today of £50 million, that’s just chicken-feed. He’s got everything already: the Cheshire mansion, the hobby football club (Salford City, currently top of tier six north in the English pyramid), the fast cars, the portfolio of business interests, the UNICEF ambassadorship, the satisfactory divorce settlement and the teams of high-powered lawyers – what more could a kid from Ely ever want? So filthy lucre is not his motivation; he’s chasing glory for Wales and, by extension, himself – and that’s exactly what Wales needs from a manager. Like all his predecessors he will be severely handicapped by the structural problem at the core of the Welsh game (no players), so an ability to work motivational miracles with what he’s got will be a job requirement. Sure he talks to camera in the corn-fed clichés and parboiled blather of practised football-speak, but any man who could refine the art of wing-play to such heights of searing incision and balletic beauty is very likely to have hidden qualities of inspiration, intelligence, counter-intuitiveness and sheer presence that might make for managerial magic.

There is definitely more to him than the still-elfin, pleasantly innocuous, designer-stubbled drone that meets the eye. For example, after his parents split when he was a teenager in Manchester he changed his surname to his mother’s in a perceptive proto-feminist endorsement and bold disavowal of his father. The father/son antipathy continues to this day, an elemental feud as old as Abraham and Isaac, which to my mind is hugely to Giggs’ credit. It takes balls and brains to defy the patriarchal order, let me tell you. He said bitterly, through gritted teeth, narrowing his eyes to slits, fattening the calf and piling more firewood on the pyre…

Giggs showed similar instinctive non-conforming courage when he publicly supported the ‘yes’ campaign in the 1997 devolution referendum (Gary Speed was the ‘no’ campaign’s equivalent). There can’t have been much encouragement to take such a stance for a thoroughly Britified, uneducated, super-rich 23-year-old in the Manchester suburbs. And if ever there were evidence of his special genius it is his astonishing and very rare endurance as a player. His total appearances in all club competitions and internationally add up to an astonishing 1,031 (181 goals), making him one of only 18 to reach 1,000 career appearances since football was codified. This doesn’t just demonstrate phenomenal stamina, endurance and appetite for the struggle, it also suggests another vital attribute Wales always require in spades: good luck.

Yes, there’s every reason to be optimistic with Ryan Giggs in charge. Predictable negative reactions on, yawn, ‘social media’ don’t stand up to scrutiny.  The carping that he hasn’t managed at club level ignores the fact that this is quite common in international football, and routine for Wales: no less than five of the 11 previous Welsh managers were in exactly the same position (Walley Barnes, Jimmy Murphy, Mike Smith, Mike England and Mark Hughes). And those slagging him off for missing so many of Wales’ friendly internationals during his playing career seem unaware that the same charge could be levelled at every single leading Welsh player over the years. To take just one of many examples: John Charles won 38 caps between 1950 and 1965, 15 years during which Wales played 78 times; Giggs won 64 caps between 1991 and 2007, 16 years during which Wales played 127 times. Do the arithmetic: their 50% turn out rate is almost precisely the same.

It was ever thus, and will remain so for as long as there is an absolute disconnection between the Welsh domestic and international games, meaning Wales has no control over its players and their loyalties are inevitably skewed in favour of the clubs that pay their wages – clubs from other countries (eg: England) that have no obligation whatsoever to assist Wales.  Mind you, I would be a lot more persuaded by this insistence that Giggs must have overarching loyalty to Wales above all else if any of the part-time Welsh patriots making the demand took their admirable commitment to Wales to its logical conclusion and also demanded the end of the authentically damaging scandal whereby six ‘Welsh’ football clubs treacherously ply their trade in the English pyramid. But on this most pressing of all issues facing Welsh football, the posturing trolls fall silent. How odd.

Congratulations are due to FAW chief executive Jonathan Ford for getting his man. He played a blinder, especially when he said during the recruitment process that the next manager “could be foreign possibly, but definitely not English”, and unleashed twitter tantrums of faux-outrage from rightwing types trying in vain to compose a laughably erroneous narrative of English victimhood. The FAW council duly dismissed the complaints with suitable disdain; not too long ago they would have been begging for forgiveness. These signs of clarity, purpose and strength, with Ford driving desperately-needed change, augur well for the future. Another example is the long overdue shake-up at levels 2 and 3 of the Welsh pyramid coming into effect in the 2019/20 season (blog post on the subject in preparation), a development that seemed inconceivable before Jonathan Ford knocked heads together on the notoriously factional FAW ruling council.

The Ryan Giggs era begins on March 22nd with Wales’ first ever game against China. Wales will be taking on the most populace country in the world, along with the Czech Republic and Uruguay, in the four-team FIFA-sanctioned China Cup being held in the vast southern megalopolis Nanning – another lucrative coup by Ford. It could hardly be more exciting, and on so many levels beyond mere football. All the best, Ryan. Become an immortal, Giggsy. Gorau chwarae, cyd chwarae.