Giggs has shown how an investment in youth can pay off

Giggs has shown how an investment in youth can pay off
Ryan Giggs celebrates after Wales secured qualification for Euro 2020 after a 2-0 win over Hungary at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday night. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

There are obvious holes to be picked in the belief it is never a bad idea to watch a game of football. The international window provides a bonanza of evidence in the case for the prosecution.

Kosovo v England? Eh, pass. Switzerland and Georgia? It’s a nice thought but maybe next time.

Tuesday’s clash of Wales and Hungary, though? That was different. The game at Cardiff City Stadium had direct consequences for Ireland’s play-off path next March but there was more to it than that. It’s little more than two years ago since Ireland beat the hosts in the same stadium but the path Wales have taken since has been intriguing.

There were plenty who predicted it would all end in tears when Ryan Giggs took charge of the national team from Chris Coleman in January last year but it was tears of joy that almost engulfed him when his side booked their place at Euro 2020 with an impressive 2-0 victory.

Giggs could easily have been a Welsh Steve Staunton. No-one who saw footage of the squirm-inducing team talk he gave while he wascaretaker manager of Manchester United, or listened to any of his inane public utterances throughout a glittering career, would have been surprised if this had been just another case of a big name making a big mess of it.

And it started ominously.

Three points from his first three games in Group E left Giggs and Wales with little wiggle room but a man who had spent his playing days along the confines of so many touchlines extricated himself and his team from a tight spot.

Wales have now gone six games unbeaten just when they needed performances most.

Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Azerbaijan wasn’t exactly a minefield of opposition, not with two of them primed to make it through to the finals. And Giggs took over a side that had excelled at Euro 2016 and one that still boasted Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in their ranks.

The last time Wales lost with those two on the pitch was an academic qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina over four years ago but they played together just once in the course of this campaign. The side that accounted for Hungary this week had five Championship players in its ranks and it was all but unrecognisable from the crew that did so well in France four summers ago.

Only three of the Welsh team that faced Portugal in the Euro 2016 semi-final stood for the anthems this week.

That would have been four had Ramsey not been suspended for the former game but the fact stands that Giggs has taken Wales to another finals on the back of a period where so many of that old guard has been replaced by young blood.

David Brooks, Daniel James, and Harry Wilson are among those who have stepped up to the plate.

Giggs has redrawn the tactics too. Wales are a more attack-minded side than the one that prospered under Coleman, even if they didn’t rack up the goals in qualifying.

This is topical in the Irish context given superb recent performances of Stephen Kenny’s U21s as a collective and the individual displays of the likes of Troy Parrott and Adam Idah.

Too many Irish managers have adopted the safety-first approach down the years when it comes to emerging talents.

Giggs has shown how an investment in youth can pay off. He was 19th in the list when The Daily Telegraph ranked the 32 managers who had played under Alex Ferguson earlier this year. Directly ahead of him was Andrei Kanchelskis whose CV consisted of a few nothing-to-see-here stints at Torpedo-Zil Moscow, Ufa and Jurmala in Latvia. Others rated higher at the time were Chris Casper (remember him? ) for a shift at Bury and David Healy for his work at Linfield.

It’s fair to say Giggs would rank considerably higher than all three of them now. Replicate what Coleman managed at Euro 2016 and he’ll have left the likes of Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce for dust.

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