How Ryan Giggs prepared for life after football
Ryan Giggs does not have normal days, even after retirement. The former Manchester United midfielder, who has had the longest ever career in Premier League football in the UK, has multiple interests that keep monotony away from his daily life.
He still plays the abridged version of the game, which brought him to Mumbai on Friday for the opening match of the Premier Futsal League. Giggs represents Mumbai Warriors that played this season’s first game against Delhi Dragons at the National Sports Club of India last evening.
The 43-year-old has business interests in the hospitality industry, shared with former Man United teammate Gary Neville. He also runs a non-league football club in UK, Salford City FC, with other 1992 Man United batch-mates Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville. Besides, he does some commentary and has managerial ambitions.
When Giggs arrives for this meeting at the St Regis Hotel in central Mumbai, he is barely noticed, because unlike many sporting superstars, he does not deliberately draw attention. Wearing a casual blue T-shirt and grey shorts, he slips in from behind a group of people discussing his interview schedule.
He smiles warmly, is soft spoken and looks fit enough to immediately play 90 minutes of football.
The reason he does not have normal days, he says, is because he planned his retirement from professional club football for a long time before actually calling it a day after the 2013-14 season.
He started planning for life after sport in his early 30s with Gary Neville. They did their coaching (certification) batches together, so when they finished playing and if they had to go into management, they were prepared. They have hotels and restaurant interests around UK, including Hotel Football next to Old Trafford and the Cafe Football inside it.
“Not everyone is prepared for retirement,” he says. “I made sure that I wasn’t just finished (playing) one day and (then) wondering what to do,” says Giggs who had 632 appearances for United.
He is not a purist, in the sense he was open to competing in Futsal, which is played indoors with five players a side. It keeps him fit and in touch with former teammates and rivals.
But it would seem contradictory to the orthodox trajectory his playing career followed—Giggs is a rare modern-day professional footballer who spent his entire career with one club.
After signing up in 1990 as a teenager, he spent nearly a quarter of a century at Manchester United. “It obviously doesn’t happen (one person staying with one team), but was quite normal for me what I did,” he says.
“Players move because they want to go higher, play for the top teams because like any job, you want to move up. You want to play for the best, which in my case I already was. Certain players move for challenges, for me it (the challenge) was at my club itself, so why leave?”
He does not foresee this sort of loyalty being emulated. “It’s getting more and more difficult, it’s not easy to come into a top club at a young age and end your career there. Jamie Vardy was playing for (FC) Halifax just some time back (2011) and two years ago, he was an EPL champ (with Leicester City). So it does happen but is rare.”
The winner of 13 Premier League and two UEFA Champions League titles both enjoys his retired life and misses the old one. Retirement comes with its perks, like leisurely lunches, being able to eat what he wants, spending time with his children and not having to train as diligently.
“I was used to having that regimental mindset where you know your weeks are planned, you are going to training, you do miss that. But there is the other side where you don’t miss it.
“You can get up and do different things. When we were playing, if we went out for lunch on a Wednesday or Thursday and someone asked if I would have a glass of wine, I would say no, I got a game. Now, you have no excuse. You can have a glass of wine, you are more relaxed, finding the balance of working and keeping your mind active.”
Giggs had a brief stint as coach when he was the interim player-manager at United towards the end of the 2014 season and was later assistant manager. It’s the job he considers the most difficult among the three professions he has experienced—player, coach and businessman.
“Coaching is tough because you can do all the preparation in the world and something might happen—you get an injury a day before, you get a bad decision, a man is sent off… It’s all out of your control.
“Dealing with them is difficult. As a player, you are in charge of your own destiny and can look after yourself as best as you can. You can do things on the pitch, but as manager you feel helpless.”
He is qualified to coach at any level but is waiting to find the right “team philosophy”, similar to his own, and making the right choice. He cites, as example, Frank de Boer, who was sacked as manager by Crystal Palace after losing their first four matches this season.
Giggs says, “It’s a result driven business. You don’t get time for your own team. You have to hit the ground running. So you have to pick the right club.”
But he compares all of his professions as requiring some of the same formulae—having the right team, good leadership, working hard and enjoying it.
“What we were used to in football was walking into the changing room and seeing the same faces for atleast 3-4 years,” he says as one of the differences. “In hospitality, you see a lot of turnover in staff especially in waiters, and so that takes a bit of getting used to.”
The footballer, who often credited yoga for his career’s longevity, and still practices it, picks the two Manchester teams, United and City, as favourites for the 2017-18 season. The teams have the right managers and have recruited well, he adds.