Alex Ferguson spot-on with Ryan Giggs: Dileep Premchandran

Apr 27, 2014, 08:09 IST | Dileep Premchandran

Given the trouble coaches Martino (Barcelona) and Moyes (Man Utd) have faced in adapting to successful systems, Sir Alex Ferguson's advice to make Ryan Giggs United's manager makes perfect sense, writes Dileep Premchandran

It takes a brave man to follow in the footsteps of those whose boot prints can never be filled. David Moyes, sacked by Manchester United earlier this week, could tell you that.

Manchester United's Ryan Giggs, who is the club's interim manager following David Moyes sacking. Pic/Getty Images
Manchester United's Ryan Giggs, who is the club's interim manager following David Moyes sacking. Pic/Getty Images 

But it's not Moyes and his ill-fated tenure that we will speak of today. We spare a thought instead for a Man Friday who became the boss, but whose time at the top was cut cruelly short.

Tito Vilanova was just 45 when he passed away on Friday. By their exalted standards, FC Barcelona have had a poor season, but the outpouring of emotion following the passing of a man whose footballing philosophy epitomised the Catalan way could just be the spur for a strong finish.

In many ways, Vilanova was the modern-day Joe Fagan, without the gift of a long life. When Bob Paisley gave up the job of managing Liverpool in 1983, Fagan was the next to be promoted from the boot room.

In his nine seasons in charge, Paisley had won six championships, three European Cups and three League Cups, establishing Liverpool as the dominant force in the European game.

When Fagan lost the Charity Shield to Manchester United, there were some that wondered whether he would be up to the task of taking the dynasty forward.

They needn't have worried. In his first season, Fagan, who had been a valued member of the back-room staff from the late 1950s, won a treble of championship, European Cup and League Cup. He retired brokenhearted after the next one, which finished with the Heysel Stadium tragedy and a lengthy ban for English clubs from European competition.

Vilanova's ties with Barcelona were even stronger than Fagan's with Liverpool. He had come through the youth ranks at Barcelona, alongside Pep Guardiola, with whom he will forever be associated. But where Guardiola went on to enjoy a stellar playing career, Vilanova never transcended journeyman status.

Guardiola-Tito bond
Guardiola never forgot him though, or the similarities in the way they viewed the game. When he took over Barcelona's B team, it was Vilanova he chose as his assistant. A season later, they were in charge of the senior side, and the years that followed were unlike any other.

The four seasons that Guardiola managed at the Nou Camp showcased some of the finest football Europe had seen in a generation. There were three consecutive La Liga titles, and two Champions Leagues. In 2008-09, Barcelona won each of the six trophies they contested. It was more than a golden age.

Even in Guardiola's final year in charge, when the passion seemed to ebb, the team finished second to Real Madrid with 91 points. In the Champions League, only a stirring Chelsea fightback denied them a place in another final. Yet, when Vilanova took charge, mere months after recovering from surgery for this throat cancer, the impression was of a team in decline.

Though a relapse in December 2012 resulted in him spending more than three months in New York – often sending instructions to the team via video calls — Barcelona won the league at a canter. Having won 18 of their first 19 games, they finished with 100 points, and a 24-point swing with Real, who were 15 behind.

Martino's struggles
There would be no encore, however, with illness forcing him away for good, but Gerardo Martino's struggles this season have shown how difficult it is for an outsider to adapt to a system that has worked almost seamlessly for years.

In that context, Sir Alex Ferguson's advice, to give Ryan Giggs the top job at United, makes perfect sense. No one is better acquainted with the United method, and in seeking the help of other Fergie fledglings like Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, Giggs has shown his hand fairly early.

The lack of experience shouldn't matter. After all, it didn't stop Kenny Dalglish – who succeeded Fagan and won three titles in five seasons – or Guardiola. And what Giggs certainly won't suffer from is the inferiority complex that Moyes appeared to have when playing the bigger clubs.

Louis van Gaal is a great coach, but at 62, he is yesterday's man. Giggs is the future. The present is a time for reflection, a time to pay tribute to a football man. In defence of the Barcelona way, Vilanova once said: "We have our faults but being cowards will never be one of them."

He certainly wasn't one. RIP

(Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India's editor-in-chief)

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