▶ A vic­tory will clinch qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Euro 2020, a feat the man­ager never achieved as a player

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL - IAN HAWKEY

The best way to suc­ceed Alex Fer­gu­son in man­age­ment, as most who have tried at Manch­ester United would con­cede, is prob­a­bly to step in and out fast, and leave no dam­ag­ing trace of how you com­pare.

Ryan Giggs did it skil­fully, never re­mov­ing the badge of United care­taker, es­cap­ing the scorn David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mour­inho and Ole Gun­nar Sol­sk­jaer have en­dured.

Back in 2014, Giggs man­aged United for four games and won more than he lost.

While he held am­bi­tions be­yond sim­ply step­ping back and serv­ing as an as­sis­tant at the club he was at­tached to for more than half his life, he will not look back too wist­fully.

Another op­por­tu­nity to make his­tory came along, and tonight, 19 matches into his first role as a per­ma­nent head coach, Giggs can guide Wales to the fi­nals of Euro 2020 with a win against Hun­gary in Cardiff.

Giggs played for Wales 64 times with­out reach­ing a World Cup or a Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships and is en­ti­tled to think that sev­eral of the Welsh teams he played in, along­side greats like Ian Rush and Mark Hughes, had more lus­tre than some of the XIs he has se­lected as Wales man­ager.

So he is equally en­ti­tled to take credit for gal­vanis­ing the group of mixed tal­ents he has avail­able.

Yes, Wales have a pair of stars, in Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Ju­ven­tus’ Aaron Ram­sey, but only tonight will Giggs have his first chance in this qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment to put them on the pitch at the same time, in­juries hav­ing con­spired against Ram­sey in par­tic­u­lar.

It was part of the man­ager’s in­ten­tion to have both in the start­ing line-up against Hun­gary when he sub­sti­tuted Bale an hour into Satur­day’s 2-0 win in Azer­bai­jan and brought on Ram­sey in his place.

Nei­ther were fully fit and 90 min­utes ac­tiv­ity would have risked their readi­ness for this evening. A bal­ance had to be found, and Giggs made his judge­ment shrewdly.

The Welsh­man, 45, has not been a per­fect man­ager. Wales have con­ceded some un­tidy goals and they had not won away in qual­i­fy­ing un­til Satur­day. Some of his judge­ments have been flawed.

Un­usu­ally for a dis­creet man, Giggs found him­self in trou­ble for say­ing out loud that Daniel James, the winger was ‘street­wise’ in stay­ing floored af­ter a chal­lenge in last month’s game against Croa­tia; med­i­cal ex­perts com­plained Giggs was being care­less about the dan­gers of con­cus­sion.

Scru­tiny is ab­so­lute for the man­ager of na­tional team.

Crit­i­cism also met Giggs’ de­ci­sion to pick Tom Lawrence when the lat­ter was fac­ing a court ap­pear­ance for an offthe-field in­ci­dent.

Some of his se­lec­tions, though, hint at sharp-eyed in­tu­ition, true man­age­rial nous.

Wales, a na­tion of three mil­lion, pick from a lim­ited pool of foot­ballers, and for ev­ery Bale or Ram­sey there are a hand­ful of back-ups who make their liv­ing in the lower di­vi­sions.

At the week­end, Giggs needed to coax com­mand­ing per­for­mances in an­chor mid­field from a teenager, Ethan Am­padu, who has played barely 45 min­utes of league foot­ball for RB Leipzig this sea­son, and from Joe Morrell, who plays for League One’s Lin­coln City.

Both pro­vided enough bite and au­thor­ity in far­away Baku that Joe Allen, the sus­pended first-choice for that role, was not missed.

The bold Giggs pick, mean­while, has been Keif­fer Moore, the cen­tre-for­ward who has scored twice in his three matches in qual­i­fy­ing and who came into con­tention when he had con­firmed his el­i­gi­bil­ity, via a Welsh grand­mother.

Moore once played for Eng­land’s C team, a level of hon­our given to foot­ballers from the non-league ranks, where Moore spent his early ca­reer.

He used to com­bine play­ing with work as a lifeguard. Moore is now 27, and thrilled to be part of the Wales ad­ven­ture, hav­ing been iden­ti­fied by Giggs as the sort of rugged tar­get man who could fit with the wing play of Bale and James. It was a wise hunch, and Giggs had to trust his in­stincts.

The striker has scored one Cham­pi­onship goal all sea­son for Wi­gan Ath­letic.

“In the last few games it doesn’t mat­ter who’s come in, they’ve all con­trib­uted,” said Giggs.

“The lads have come into camp re­ally con­fi­dent. Over­all the per­for­mances have im­proved so we’ve started to gain some sort of mo­men­tum.” Mo­men­tum enough, the young man­ager hopes, to fly through this – Giggs’ grad­u­a­tion day.

Only tonight will Giggs have his first chance in this tour­na­ment to put Bale and Ram­sey on the pitch at the same time


Ryan Giggs’ Wales take on Hun­gary at home in Cardiff with a win enough to se­cure a place in the fi­nals

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