Manchester United’s famous group of homegrown players were expected to make significant noise as managers but the opposite has been true so far
It was on April 22, 2014 that David Moyes’ nine-month reign as manager of Manchester United was ended and Ryan Giggs was given temporary charge of the most successful club in English football. This was only the beginning for Giggs and the rest of the ambitious Class of ‘92, so went the general consensus at the time.
With Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville entrusted to work alongside the United interim boss and Gary Neville having long since presented his apparent tactical wisdom in the TV studios for Sky Sports, there appeared to be a clear pathway to managerial success for the quintet even if their more famous former team-mate David Beckham had already insisted the managing lark was not for him.
“I think that he is the one man they should go to, really,” Sir Alex Ferguson said in presenting a case for Giggs to be given the United job on a permanent basis. “He’s got 20-odd years of experience at Manchester United, he’s gone through the gamut of emotions at the club, he’s experienced all the highs and lows.
“He knows exactly what is needed to be a Manchester United player and I was so pleased he brought Paul Scholes back in, and Nicky Butt of course. They understand the club, they are hard workers, they are straight as a die.”
But three and a half years on, with Moyes about to begin his third managerial job since that Old Trafford failure when West Ham United visit Watford on Sunday, the six famous graduates of the Class of ’92 have clocked up a grand total of one head coach role, which lasted less than fourth months.
Gary Neville’s failed 28-game spell at Valencia in 2015-16 has been both the height and the nadir of their achievements in management, as a group of former players with almost endless rolls of honour in the game have ended up spending far more time behind a microphone than in the dugout.
When Giggs was overlooked in favour of Louis van Gaal for the permanent role at United following his four-game caretaker spell he was at least offered the carrot of being the Dutchman’s successor after a three-year apprenticeship as assistant manager. But when Van Gaal’s reign ended early in 2016, new boss Jose Mourinho had no space for Giggs and the club’s record appearance holder went on the lookout for employment elsewhere with the presumed title of the most likely managerial king in the Class of ’92.
Yet it is now 18 months since the former winger went onto the management market and he has still not been snapped up. He was considered by Swansea City early last term as they looked for a replacement for Francesco Guidolin, but the club eventually appointed Bob Bradley amid rumours that Giggs interviewed very poorly.
“Well I spoke to them, so I was pretty close. I just didn’t do a good job!” Giggs told Sky Sports when discussing the episode. “It was a good experience for me to speak to Swansea, it just wasn’t to be.
“I don’t just think a club should interview you, you should also interview them. If a club’s not right for you then you should have the right to turn them down. I’m ready, but if it has to be next year then so be it.”
But Giggs has been “ready” for far more than a year now is still nowhere nearer a job. Gary Neville, meanwhile, is safely ensconced back in the TV studio after his chastening experience in Spain, while Scholes and Phil Neville have also filled their time with media responsibilities. And with Beckham edging ever closer his personal aim of owning an MLS franchise in Miami, Butt is the only member of the Class of ’92 currently working in a coaching capacity as Manchester United’s Head of Academy and occasional under-19 coach.
Scholes interviewed for the Oldham Athletic manager’s job in October but like Giggs at Swansea he was overlooked, with Richie Wellens’ feats as caretaker boss winning him favour with the board. “I wanted the job and I was interviewed for the job,” Scholes told BBC Radio Manchester. “I had a good chat with Mark Moisley the chief executive and Simon Corney the owner and I think the chat went well. Obviously, there were other people interviewed for the job but they could not ignore what Rick has done.”
Many pundits and former players make it their life’s aim to decry the lack of young English coaches given a chance in the Premier League ahead of their foreign contemporaries. Yet the continual trend of turning to older, short-term British options is as much a barricade to the next generation as the invitation to those from abroad. And the fact that Moyes could be offered three jobs during a period when five former stars of one of the most successful sides of modern history have been handed one between them speaks volumes.
But for all the various advice that Giggs, Scholes, Butt and the Nevilles have offered in TV roles and all the decisions made in taking Salford City on a fast-track run through non-league football, the truth is they have yet to offer any compelling evidence that they truly have what it takes to be top-level managers.
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This week it was confirmed that Giggs and Scholes will take up advisory roles with the PVF club in Vietnam. Besides their capacities in PVF and Salford City, the Class of ’92 now have interests to varying degrees in hospitality, hotels, cafes, property, fashion, whiskey and branded after shave amongst other things.
Yet management is the one thing they seem incapable of having a say in right now, and with every day that passes it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine any one of them turning into the next great young British manager. They have 4,292 senior club appearances and 428 international caps between them, but thus far all that playing experience has won them nothing more than glorified celebrity status on the fringes of football.
So while Moyes embarks on a new adventure as reward for three spectacular managerial failures in succession, the best the Class of ’92 can offer is a freeze-framed appraisal of the Scot’s work with West Ham. This, it would seem, is what the future of British management looks like.