When footage of a Ryan Giggs team talk at Manchester United went viral in early 2018, the unforgiving internet had a field day. But just how bad was it?
“These work their bollocks off.”
Of all the words Ryan Giggs might have chosen to sign off his time at Manchester United, those hardly seemed the most fitting.
But 2013-14 had been a weird season for him. His last as a player, it had been largely disastrous: David Moyes had failed to carry the baton from Sir Alex Ferguson, and United weren’t getting into Europe.
Come April, it looked like the Welshman would be getting a disappointing send-off from Old Trafford.
However, after sacking Moyes in April, United made Giggs caretaker manager for the final four games of the Premier League season, giving him an opportunity to showcase his coaching talents as he brought his on-field career to a close.
It was an interesting experiment, albeit a short one, and fans were keen to see how the Man United icon would fare in the new role.
In his first three games, Giggs led United to two comprehensive victories, over Norwich and Hull, and a 1-0 home defeat to Sunderland. Unsurprisingly, the latter dealt a blow to his dugout credibility.
In the fourth match, United faced Southampton. And it was the Saints who, according to the temporary boss, would be working their bollocks off.
But if the big occasion warranted an outpouring of emotion and passion from the outgoing legend (at this point there was no confirmation that Giggs would stay on as a coach), it seemed to produce anything but.
An ITV documentary revealed the contents of Giggs’ pre-match team talk: monotony, cliché and a lot of awkward um-ing and erm-ing.
This is amazing. Giggs' final team meeting as Man United caretaker manager. Lol. pic.twitter.com/fbvlCywZDz
— Sean 🌹 (@shornKOOMINS) January 16, 2018
But was the clip a fair representation of Giggs’ personality?
Although first aired in 2014, the video only gained notoriety in early 2018, when Giggs was named manager of the Welsh national team.
At this point in time, it was shared in isolation from the rest of the ITV documentary, depicting Giggs as a flaccid, droning bore with less personality than the squiggly carpet on which he was standing.
In one sense, that’s probably a fair representation. In another, however, it may not be.
The team today is going have to work hard because these work their bollocks off — they’re good at home. But the team that we’ve got has got experience, pace, players who are comfortable on the ball.
They do die at the end, so, subs: you might come on and win the game. So concentrate and watch the game.
The reason people have constantly laughed/cried at this team talk is not so much the content of Giggs’ words as the delivery.
It sounds terrible because, well, Giggs doesn’t have an inspiring voice. He has a boring voice.
Thing about that Giggs team talk clip is that the words and sentiments used were probably not that different from Ferguson, who kept things simple. Giggs, sadly for him, does not possess Ferguson's charisma and power. They are something innate, beyond just about everybody.
— John Brewin (@JohnBrewin_) January 16, 2018
But that’s hardly news, is it? The ex-winger, whose soft, nasal vocals have been heard for decades, doesn’t take on a different or unusual tone for this dry speech; it just seems sillier because of the position he’s in.
So what of the content?
There’s a lot of stumbling and cliché going on here, but there’s also some direct advice: Southampton, Giggs says, are going to tire at the end of the match, and the Man United subs could be used to exploit that.
On the whole, it seems like the caretaker has put at least some research into this wildly depressing lecture.
Unfortunately, a quick look back on results in the 2013-14 season suggests — not altogether unsurprisingly — that Giggs might have been talking utter shite here.
In Southampton’s previous match, away at Swansea, the score had been goalless for most of the game. Presumably dead by this point, Southampton snatched victory in the third minute of second-half stoppage time.
Maybe Rickie Lambert was… dying… of happiness?
It’s the last game of the season. We want to end on a high, we want to give our fans something to shout about. Fuckin’ City or Liverpool are gonna win the league. Erm, give our fans something to shout about.
It’s been a frustrating season, but it’s a good game to play in and one that I’m looking forward to because of the exciting players that we’ve got on the pitch. Okay?
The snippet of tactical advice doesn’t seem to stand up to scrutiny, but Giggs’ psychological methods are perhaps worse than his technical ones.
For some reason, that innocuous use of “fuckin’” is more painful to listen to than anything else that Giggs could possibly have uttered over his lifetime.
And this is a man who did impromptu covers of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ on nights out with team-mates.
Oh dear Radio 1 are playing "Rappers Delight" – flashback to Paul Ince & Ryan Giggs reliving their teen years & rapping along, drunkenly….
— Marissa (@MelbaMiffle) July 23, 2009
Despite telling his squad to give the fans something to shout about (twice), United went on to draw 1-1.
But all this might be a little hard on Giggs.
Because while that short clip went viral, the rest of Life of Ryan: Caretaker Manager (fucking hell, ITV…) did not. And it’s the next scene of the documentary, which takes place after the Southampton match, that sort of puts the whole thing into perspective.
Speaking to the camera, Giggs recounts leaving Manchester Airport with the players, thanking and saying farewell to them — potentially for the last time.
“I could feel myself getting emotional,” he says, confused by the workings of his own mind.
He describes bursting into tears at the wheel of his car before pulling up, mortifyingly, alongside Nicky Butt. “Can’t let Butty know that I’ve just been crying!” he jokes.
It’s a truly tender moment, the likes of which you rarely see from the Welshman — or any professional footballer, for that matter.
And in the scheme of widespread Giggs ridicule, this scene matters.
The team talk was mocked for its lack of passion, emotion and personality. But those things were clearly there within Giggs, waiting to be released.
That they only came out after the situation had sunk in, during a moment of solitude on a road outside an airport, is both sweet and a little silly.
Ryan Giggs: a shit motivator, perhaps, but definitely human.
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