Sir Alex Ferguson has told Manchester United that he believes Ryan Giggs can be his successor as manager of the club when the 70-year-old finally walks away from Old Trafford.
The question of Ferguson's succession is a key issue at the club despite the Scot being prepared to do another two seasons after this one, provided that his health remains good. Appointing Giggs would be a huge step for the club, given the size of the job, but Ferguson's endorsement will have a major effect on his chances.
The Independent understands that Ferguson has spoken about Giggs as a potential successor relatively recently. When asked the question publicly about who may be the next United manager, Ferguson usually deflects the question, and not always politely. However, he is understood to be saying privately that he believes Giggs could do the job.
Giggs will be 39 in November and is currently on 899 appearances for the club, but did not travel to Amsterdam as part of the squad for tonight's Europa League first-leg game against Ajax. He signed a new one-year contract for next season last week and will pass the 21st anniversary of his first-team debut next month. Despite a slow start to the season, he is once again a key first XI pick for Ferguson.
The United job, when it becomes available, will be sought after by the most successful managers in the world, including Jose Mourinho and potentially Pep Guardiola. On the few occasions that the club have discussed the issue publicly, they have always stressed that it is a question of taking the best option at the time Ferguson chooses to go.
The notion of Giggs succeeding Ferguson has been discussed among the senior players at Old Trafford, as made clear by an interview Paul Scholes gave two weeks ago in which he said that he could envisage his team-mate being given the job. "People have talked about Mourinho," Scholes said. "It can change quickly – it's about who is successful at the time. Whether they are British or foreign, you just want the best man for the job. I could see Ryan Giggs becoming manager."
United's expectation for their next manager is someone who understands the club and is not of a mind to change radically what has been the most successful organisation in British football for the past two decades.
Gill told The Independent in May 2010 that Ferguson's view would be crucial. "I think Alex will be the key," he said. "He knows people. He will have a big role in advising and being a sounding board."
Giggs said in an interview earlier this week that he has still not set a date for retirement and did not rule out the possibility that he could play for United at the age of 40. On the question of a career in management, he was speaking in the context of the death of his former Wales team-mate Gary Speed when he said: "Everyone who has played and managed would say that playing is much, much easier."
There is still no sign yet of Ferguson giving up on his plan of two more seasons after this one. In an interview with the Fifa website yesterday he said once again that as long as he was in "good health" he would carry on.
Ferguson said: "I don't think you can set yourself limits, but nor can you plan too far ahead because you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," he said. "The time will come, obviously, but right now it's not something I'm thinking about."
Giggs is expected to be given the next few days off as United have no game this weekend because they were knocked out of the FA Cup. The 38-year-old is understood to have taken some of his coaching badges, including his Uefa A licence.
No horseplay from Rooney
Scousers have a mischievous reputation in naming racehorses but Wayne Rooney has decided not to follow Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman's example – the pair called their first two horses Some Horse and Another Horse with the aim of making commentators' lives difficult. Rooney has named his second steed, a £63,000 two-year-old, Switcharooney.