A few silver linings in Man United's home finale
Less lap of honour, more walk of shame. Those who served Manchester United this season have done little to deserve the warm applause they received. Aside from David De Gea, and Adnan Januzaj for a promising first season, the rest of the side end the campaign with little honour to share around. If David Moyes was the problem, then few have revealed themselves as solutions.
Ryan Giggs’ run of three home games in charge ended in victory over Hull City, a team with bigger fish left to fry than United. City's thoughts clearly idled towards next week’s FA Cup final. Two strikes from teenage debutant James Wilson and one from Robin van Persie were enough to partially lift home spirits in a 3-1 win. The flourish of youth and a reminder of the Dutchman’s class were encouraging notes to sign off United’s final home game.
“You have seen a little glimpse of the future,” Giggs told the crowd over Old Trafford’s PA system after the final whistle. “This is what this club is about. We never stand still, we give youth a chance as we try and play attractive football.” Giggs spoke as someone who plans to remain at the club. Nemanja Vidic, confirmed in the departure lounge, was given a standing ovation by the thinning crowd who stayed to applaud. Giggs’ eventual arrival as a substitute received the highest approval rating of the night. Giving himself 20 minutes suggested that this might be the last time, having first come on as a sub in March 1991 against Everton.
Louis Van Gaal’s appointment as permanent manager is set to be confirmed as early as Wednesday; there were rumours the Dutchman might attend this match but Giggs played dumb to them. "I've not been told anything,” he said afterwards. “I'm just getting on with the job and I'll do it until Sunday."
Wherever Van Gaal was watching, it will have been clear that rebuilding is required, though. As a believer in blooding youth, he might be heartened by promising debuts from two fledglings, and especially Wilson. Januzaj was United’s most dangerous attacker, while the number 11 who came on later made an impressive contribution. A tackle on the edge of his area and subsequent shimmy past Alex Bruce at the edge of Hull’s showed Giggs might have a future in this game.
“I am not decided yet,” Giggs told a news conference of his playing plans for the future. “Nothing’s changed. I’ll wait until the season’s finished. I’ll take a holiday and think about it.”
In selecting Wilson, an 18-year-old born in Biddulph just 25 miles south of Mancheter, and Welshman Tom Lawrence, 20, Giggs’ probable aim was to mask that pitiful recent past. A season where United fans are reduced to snickering at Liverpool’s title choke and instead cheering on City required something to be salvaged. Lawrence, neat and tidy throughout, will always remember the night he was replaced by his legendary countryman.
“I am delighted for them,” said Giggs. “They were brilliant tonight, as was Adnan. I know that if you give young players a chance they will more often than not take them.”
Hull’s relaxed approach provided soft bedding-in ground, but Wilson’s first strike, from a Marouane Fellaini knockdown, was taken with Premier class. It was the type of half-volley that Robin van Persie would be proud of. When the Dutchman replaced him immediately after a 61st minute poacher’s finish from a rebounding Fellaini shot had secured Wilson’s second, there was a heartfelt handshake of approval. Wilson did not hide his smiles. Understandably so. He had provided a feelgood factor lacking for almost the whole season. “He's a clever player,” said Giggs approvingly. Giggs gave Wilson and Lawrence what Alex Ferguson supplied him with the first of his 963 appearances. With the Europa League squandered against Sunderland on Saturday, those debuts may be the strongest legacy of the Class of ’92’s interregnum.
"I don't buy into the theory that this club needs to bring in lots of players and sell off a lot," said Giggs in his final set of programme notes. "A few carefully chosen recruits will bring the best out of the existing squad."
The interim manager’s team selection sent a contrasting message, perhaps betraying real feelings about the weekend’s performance. It was the type of double-talk the man who gave him his debut might use. Juan Mata, benched for two of Giggs’ three matches and subbed off early in the other, has clearly not convinced his sometime teammate. That other ill-fitting remnant from the David Moyes regime, Fellaini, played in the forward role that was always his best for Everton. It looks his best for United, too.
Of the survivors from winning the European Cup in 2008, only Michael Carrick started. “When older players grow old together, then you have a rebuilding job on your hands,” as Hull manager Steve Bruce noted. Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, with futures undecided, were not selected, while Vidic’s valedictory appearance came from the bench to replace Phil Jones.
The Serb had received a pre-match presentation from Sir Bobby Charlton before Jones, typically impetuous, crashed into Maynor Figueroa, and came off worse, and badly. Immediate suspicion was a dislocated shoulder; Jones left the field pained by both his injury and a chilling fear he might miss the World Cup. “It didn’t look great,” said Giggs.
Jones’ susceptibility to injury owes plenty to his full-pelt rampaging. He departed the ground with his arm in a sling, a desperate state considering England’s 23-man squad is announced next Monday. During a summer of United upheaval, Jones looks likely to be kicking his heels in frustration. His predicament meant he missed the lap of appreciation, and Giggs‘ public speaking.
“We know it has been tough this season and over the years we have been spoiled by the success we have had,” Giggs told the fans. “You have always supported the team and the staff and I am sure in coming years we will bring you more success.”