- Wales facing uphill challenge in UEFA EURO 2020 race
- Ryan Giggs eyes upcoming hurdles for his young side
- “I’ve got faith in the talent we’ve got”
Ryan Giggs spent two decades occupying touchlines for Manchester United and Wales as a fleet-footed winger, so he arguably just had to shift his perspective a few feet to slot into the managerial mindset. After initially being thrown into the deep end at United, five years later he’s finally looking settled at the helm of his country.
Having only ever been seen in those two shirts – less a fortnight captaining Great Britain’s Olympic side – it’s perhaps fitting that, so far, they remain his only coaching credits to date. While still in many senses a fledgling on the bench, after 18 months leading Wales, he is now facing the most serious test of his credentials.
Giggs’s young side are currently lagging in the race to qualify for UEFA EURO 2020, having wowed at the 2016 finals, after successive defeats to Hungary and Croatia. We sat down with him to discuss the challenge ahead, bringing through a new generation and seeing his former team-mate nominated among The Best.
It’s 18 months now since you took the role, so is this how you envisaged a Ryan Giggs Wales side would look?
I’m quite happy with the development of the young players, fast-tracking and bringing them through. For me now I’d just like to have a bit of consistency where you’ve got more or less 25 or 26 players that you know you’re picking; they can all come into any position in the side and they know what they’re doing. The frustration for international football – which won’t change – is you don’t really know what players you’re going to get, almost until the weekend before you play.
If I had that consistency it would be amazing, but it’s very difficult to get. Overall, I’m excited with the players that we’ve got, the balance between experienced and young players, so I’m looking forward to the games that we’ve got, which will come fast through September, October and November.
While you’ve had to unfortunately see Aaron Ramsey pull out of the squad, it must have been a boost seeing Gareth Bale’s positive start to the season after an unpredictable few months?
Looking from afar – and I’ve been in contact with Gareth over the summer – I’ve not been privy of the details. You didn’t know what was going to happen, so to see him be involved in the last few pre-season matches and then start the first three games is great for not only Gareth but me as well. Him coming to us with a few more games under his belt is a real bonus for me.
The likes of he, Aaron and Joe Allen have quite an important role in getting the most out of what is an exciting group of attacking youngsters at your disposal.
There’s a lot of younger players coming into the squad and, just like any young player they’ll be watching the players who have been there and done it, the world class players. Not only how they behave on the pitch but off the pitch as well, the likes of Aaron, Chris Gunter, Gareth and Joe. These young players look up to them and want to have the careers that they’ve had. Also, the older players can be motivated by the younger players coming in – I used to be if I saw someone coming in and wanting my place, so it can work both ways.
Harry Wilson wowed with an impressive free-kick against Manchester City.
Certainly, and you have these young players performing on the top stage. The likes of Daniel James and Harry Wilson have both had great starts to the season.
I was at both games where they scored [their first goals] and it’s great to have the players playing. They’ll arrive with games under their belts and having had good pre-seasons. You want your players coming in and playing in good form which hasn’t always been the case in the past – players in and out of teams or maybe not playing as well as they can do.
While he’s obviously right footed, I’m sure you have no issues seeing a Manchester United player charging down the left wing for Wales.
[Laughs] No, not at all. I’ve got loads of mates who are Man United fans and as soon as we signed James they were asking me what he’s about. He’s an exciting player, he’s still a player who’s learning the game. Like with young wingers, his final ball and scoring more goals will all come but he can beat players with and without the ball, he can run in behind, and he’s a great character as well. He’s really level-headed, wants to be the best and from a United fan’s perspective I’m really excited and happy to see him at the club.
With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having started his first full season at United, one theme from Sir Alex Ferguson’s time that seems to be coming through for both of you is that faith in youth.
You get such joy with coaching young players because every training session you’re seeing them improve and the enthusiasm. They’re at the start of their career when they’re hungry and want to do well. They remind you what the game’s about. Of course, they make mistakes and lack a bit of experience at times, but how else are they going to get that experience unless you give them a chance?
Looking ahead there, EURO 2020 qualifying started off perfectly but these last two defeats have left you in a tough spot.
It was tough for us because I think both games could have seen all three results, really, but unfortunately we lost both of them. It was two tough away games in the middle of June, the conditions in Croatia were really challenging because it was so hot and the players had just finished the season four or five weeks earlier. But it’s just the fine details, we’re not that far away. A little bit of luck, putting away those chances as it’s fine margins and we didn’t come out on top in those games. I’ve got faith in the talent we’ve got and now it’s about trying to gain a bit of momentum against Azerbaijan, which we’re not taking for granted. These are the games that we need to win at home if we’ve still got aspirations and then carry that into two tough games – Slovakia away and Croatia at home.
Hungary are of course performing very well, while Croatia were the obvious heavyweights in the group. How do you see the group panning out with you having to make up some ground after one win in three?
We’re ending on that home advantage. We’ve got three games at home now, but then again two tough away games in Slovakia and Azerbaijan because of the trip and how far away it is. It’s a real competitive group – everyone’s lost so far – everyone can beat each other. I knew that Hungary were a decent team beforehand, but I think they’ve surprised a lot of people with their results and they’re top of the league, together with a very competitive Slovakia team, who just won 5-0. The good thing for me is that teams will still take points off each other. What we’ve got to do is try to set ourselves a target that will get us to qualify.
Your old team-mate Phil Neville is in the final three of The Best FIFA Women’s Coach, as well.
The women’s game in general has just gone from strength to strength. It was great to watch Phil’s experience during the summer and he’s done well. Phil has always been someone who was nailed on to go into coaching, whether it be as a coach or a manager and I know that he’s enjoying it a lot. I wish him all the best as he’s a great lad and someone who has done all he can to be the best coach.