David Moyes owes Manchester United's Champions League victory to the 40-year-old Ryan Giggs, writes former Arsenal midfielder Adrian Clarke...
I hate to rain of David Moyes’ parade, but I thought Ryan Giggs was the real boss at Old Trafford last night.
Not technically of course. And Manchester United’s beleaguered manager will quite rightly bask in the glory of his inspired decision to recall the 40-year-old legend, alongside other peripheral figures Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck.
For together, the recalled stars helped blow the storm clouds away. Albeit in the direction of east London, where they could easily drift over Upton Park in the dusky sky on Saturday evening.
Outclassed by Brendan Rodgers at the weekend, Moyes will be hoping this Champions League turnaround has convinced the doubters he’s back in full control of his tactical faculties.
That’s right. Against traditionally fragile travellers Olympiakos (a club that has not won on English soil in 12 attempts) he knew that a bit of extra nous, allied with a pep up in pace out wide, was the formula best suited to testing their wobbly nerve, and rescuing a precarious situation. If true, I tip my hat.
Personally, I’m not entirely convinced. Juan Mata was ineligible, so that’s one decision that was enforced. And in a week when every pundit in the land, Gary Neville most vociferously, has been bemoaning the lack of pace in United’s side, is it really a coincidence that he ripped up his 2014 game plan, turning to speed instead. You also have to wonder about the Giggs selection - even though it’s another that came up trumps.
Just 36 hours after newspaper reports claimed the player-coach had become ‘the ghost of Old Trafford’, a hero marginalised by the Scot, he’s unexpectedly brought back in from the cold for United’s most important match of the season – having played just 81 minutes since January 7. Was it a selection to kill the story, and quell the unrest? Or was it tactical genius? In the current climate I’m not sure it’s possible to be certain the media reports had no influence…
No matter how or why he played, without Giggs, United would be out of Europe this morning. There is no other player in their side – other than strikers Rooney and Van Persie – who would have had the confidence or skill to drill those two long range, laser-precision, left foot passes to each of them, for the first half goals.
There would have been no penalty; there would have been no Van Persie goal on the stroke of half-time. Both moments owed everything to the vision and class of the greying Welshman. Without wishing to bury the United manager too much – especially on World Happiness Day – I’d also question his judgment during the game.
With Olympiakos playmaker Alejandro Dominguez afforded too much time to pull the strings, Patrice Evra leaving cavernous spaces behind him to exploit, and the cultured midfield duo of Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick desperately in need of a helping hand when the Greeks burst forward – the Scot did very little to act until the final moments. He got lucky. And let’s be honest, the visitors could easily have scored three goals themselves but for the heroics of David de Gea.
What have we learned? Even if Giggs and Rooney told ITV they ‘did it for the fans’ (no mention of the gaffer) we’ve discovered that despite obvious rumblings behind the scenes, United’s players haven’t totally given up on their manager. They did show fight.
It’s also clear that Moyes would be wise to persist with pace. He either drops both of Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj, chooses to imbalance his team by picking one, or he changes the system. To leave Welbeck and Valencia out of a 4-4-2 at West Ham this weekend would be a gamble.
We’ve also learned that Ryan Giggs isn’t finished as a force at Old Trafford. Reminding the world that he’s still around to help Manchester United in their hour of need, could turn out to be perfect timing.
With managerial aspirations of his own, United’s number 11 is a winner that knows what it takes to achieve success at this club. Just four months younger than Roberto Martinez, a mere 10 months younger than Brendan Rodgers, he’s not exactly too young to be considered.
How long do we give it before he’s the Manchester United boss for real?