2 December 2015. We all sat there wide eyed at the announcement of Gary Neville as Valencia manager.
30 March 2016. We all sit here unsurprised at the announcement of Neville leaving Valencia by mutual consent.
Neville couldn’t have thrown himself into deeper water. It was his first managerial appointment, made halfway through the season at a club competing in the Champions League in a country which he didn’t speak the native language. In the same vein, Valencia couldn’t have taken a bigger gamble on a man whose focus was more on what he would discuss on the next instalment of Monday Night Football on Sky Sports rather than contemplate any move into management.
Despite the familiarities of his brother Phil at his side and Salford co-owner Peter Lim at the helm, it proved to be a miscalculated gamble by both Neville and Valencia and for Manchester United, Neville’s debacle in Spain must serve as a stern warning towards the direction which we need to move forward after Louis van Gaal.
Supporters of the idea that Giggs will make a great replacement for van Gaal will point feverishly towards the success of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique as proof Giggs can replicate that at Old Trafford, ignoring the context behind it in a cause driven more by romanticism than logic.
Guardiola managed Barcelona’s B-side for a year before taking up the job and he walked into arguably their greatest ever generation of players with Lionel Messi at the tip. Enrique managed Barcelona’s B-side for three years and had spells at both AS Roma and Celta Vigo prior to taking over at the Nou Camp. By contrast, Giggs has taken charge of a few games as interim manager and been our assistant for two seasons under van Gaal.
The fact of the matter is United are not in the position to take the risk with Giggs. Guardiola followed Frank Rijkaard who had won five trophies including the UEFA Champions League between 2004-2006 and had a wonderful team to walk into. Unless United win the FA Cup, this summer will mark three seasons without silverware and our squad is still in need of major restructuring from the bottom-up. Is that really the sort of situation which allows you to take a managerial risk by promoting from within?
Nobody wanted to see Neville fail at Valencia but it happened and given how important this next managerial appointment is for United, it’s just not a gamble we can take. We did it with David Moyes and van Gaal hasn’t worked out, so now we are at a crucial crossroads as a club.
Make the right appointment and the post-Fergie dip can be labelled as precisely that – a dip, a short-term falling of standards much like we did under Fergie between 2003-2006 where the only silverware was an FA Cup in 2004. Make the wrong appointment and we risk emulating the Liverpool spiral of the early 1990s which they’re still trying to crawl out of.
Replacing Fergie was a poisoned chalice and one of the hardest jobs football will ever have but for United it’s not as important as replacing van Gaal because of what can happen if we make another mistake.