When Ryan Giggs confirmed that he was hanging up his boots after what can only be described as a remarkable playing career for Manchester United, the general consensus was that it would be impossible to replace him.
Perhaps even more so than his fellow Class of 92’ graduates, Giggs etched his name into the Old Trafford history books in a way that guarantees his legacy as one of the club’s greatest ever players, and there’s a good deal of fans who would be happy to tell you he might just be the greatest.
Giggs at United
And yet the man himself remains but a humble servant, keen to aid United’s ambitions as a club in whatever way he can. The very fact that he urged the powers that be not to retire his iconic No.11 shirt is a testament to the fact that he’s fully behind the idea that no one man, regardless of his importance, is bigger than the collective.
Wise, perhaps true, words given the fact that United rank amongst the perennial giants of the footballing world. As it transpires the club have decided not to retire it at all, but instead hand it over to a youngster many deem to be Giggs’ natural heir; the prodigal Adnan Januzaj.
Januzaj handed the No.11 shirt
Thanks to the trust of David Moyes the Belgian international shot to stardom last season, making his name giving opposition defences the run around whilst the rest of his team trudged on in relative chaos. One hesitates to predict he’ll ever be quite as brilliant as Giggs was, but if there was ever a ready-made successor, it’s him.
And yet I disagree with the idea that he can get anything out of being handed the Welshman’s number this summer, in fact it could even prove to be detrimental. In a literal sense of course it’s just a shirt. The badge will be sewn on the same as every other, the numbers made from the same material and the colour just as red.
However to the fans, who virtually single-handedly determine how much pressure is a placed upon a player’s shoulders, the No.11 shirt is immeasurably different from the others. Januzaj’s bestowment confirms that the club see him as being a vital United player for the long-run, and there’s now even more responsibility for the 19-year-old to shine week in, week out.
In the wake his scintillating form of last term the impetus was always going to be on Januzaj to continue his steady ascension, but there’s every chance he could buckle under the weight of immense scrutiny. The better option, in my opinion, would have been to hold on to the shirt Giggs made famous, at least until Januzaj had established himself as a regular starter for United, and one who was ready to make the step up being an heir of a club great requires.
Is he ready?
For let’s not forget the Brussels-born winger only has 35 senior appearances under his belt for United, and there is a possibility - albeit a slim one - that his promise could fizzle out into nothing if he’s not placed upon the right path to further his career. After all, there are those who believe he should have been sent on loan this year to guarantee maximum opportunities, particularly given the competition for places there's likely to be.
That being said Van Gaal has made a reputation out of taking unpolished diamonds and churning out world-beating talents, as evidenced by the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Thomas Muller.
Does upping the levels of pressure on Januzaj mean he’s going to crumble and fail? Not at all.
Does it represent a risk that may have otherwise been avoided? Without a doubt.