- Image 1 of 2
- Image 2 of 2
MANCHESTER, England – Manchester United broke with 136 years of tradition to welcome Louis van Gaal as its new manager and saw midfield great Ryan Giggs end his storied playing career to take up a coaching role on another tumultuous day at England's biggest club.
Exactly a year after waving goodbye to Alex Ferguson and his 26 seasons of steady success, the most turbulent 12 months of United's recent history ended with the club's hierarchy, new coaching staff and fans expressing confidence that the good times are about to return.
In a widely anticipated move, Van Gaal was handed the sizeable task of restoring the team's fortunes following the woeful, 10-month reign of David Moyes, signing a three-year deal that will begin once he finishes his duties with the Netherlands national team at the upcoming World Cup.
The 62-year-old Dutchman, who will be United's first manager from outside Britain or Ireland, has the experience of coaching — and winning titles — at top European teams Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He will be viewed as a much safer bet than Moyes, who proved to be too inexperienced at the highest level.
"This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions," Van Gaal said, proclaiming United as the "biggest club" in soccer. "Together I'm sure we will make history."
Assisting Van Gaal will be Giggs, who brought to a close his 23-year career on the same day that he became a full-time coach at the club in which he became one of Britain's greatest players.
After 13 league titles, two Champions Leagues, a club-record 963 appearances and 168 goals, Giggs is swapping his cleats for a suit at Old Trafford.
"For me, today is new chapter filled with many emotions — immense pride, sadness, but most of all, excitement towards the future," Giggs said in an open letter, in which he also praised the abilities of Van Gaal.
"United fans I hope will share and echo my belief that the club, the management and owners are doing everything they can to return this great club to where it belongs, and I hope to be there every step of the way."
United, with its record 20 English league titles and three European Cup trophies, hasn't been in such a state of flux for a generation.
It all started with the retirement of Ferguson last May, along with the disappearance of the final remnants of the "Class of 92" generation that was so instrumental in those glory days under the Scot.
David Beckham, the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt have all ended their playing careers and now Giggs has done the same. United just won't be the same.
For Van Gaal and Giggs to form any kind of dream team they need to click immediately, with United scarcely contemplating another season like the one just finished.
Under Moyes, United placed seventh for its lowest finish in the Premier League's 22-year history, in what proved to be the worst defense of a league title. To make matters worse, the team failed to qualify for the European competitions — not even the second-tier Europa League — for the first time in 24 years.
Van Gaal's mission will be to get United back in the lucrative Champions League and back playing the kind of attacking, dynamic brand of soccer expected at Old Trafford.
United's American owners, the Glazer family, and vice chairman Ed Woodward are sure Van Gaal is the man to do just that.
"He has achieved many things in his career to date and Old Trafford provides him with a fitting stage on which to write new chapters in the Manchester United story," Woodward said. "Everyone is very excited about this new phase in the club's history."
The romantic notion of United hiring coaches in a bid to create a dynasty — something Ferguson uniquely achieved — also appears to have ended with the appointment of Van Gaal.
After spending six years at Ajax, where he guided a talented young team that included Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert to the pinnacle of European soccer by winning the Champions League in 1995, he joined Barcelona in 1997 for the first of two spells — the first lasting three seasons and the second barely half a year.
He has since coached AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league and Bayern from 2009-11.
Van Gaal is a proven winner, something Moyes was not.
"His credentials are second to none," Giggs said, "and I'm positive the club will thrive under his leadership over the coming years."
Giggs began his open letter with the words: "Today is a fantastic day for Manchester United." It will also be an emotional one for fans so used to the sight of Giggs slaloming past opponents, scoring goals, and covering every blade of grass on the pitch.
Even in his later years, when his hair had greyed and he had moved from being a dashing winger to a creative central midfielder, Giggs remained one of United's better players.
"Remarkable career by a loyal, legendary (United) entertainer," FIFA President Sepp Blatter said on Twitter. "963 games. 34 trophies. 1 club."
His career has now entered a new stage. And United is embarking on a new era, with two proven winners at the helm.