HUNGARY FOR SUCCESS: GIGGS AND WALES JUST A STEP AWAY
▶ A victory will clinch qualification for Euro 2020, a feat the manager never achieved as a player
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