The last time Ryan Giggs visited the Netherlands in mid-May, he had just made his debut as a Manchester United player.
Giggs made an impact after his March 1991 introduction, but he was still only 17 years old and travelled as a fan to see his new teammates beat Barcelona two months later in Rotterdam in the Cup Winners’ Cup final.
On Wednesday, Giggs, 40, returned to Holland by private jet, to the coastal town of Noordwijk, 30 kilometres north of Rotterdam. He went to meet United’s manager-in-waiting Louis van Gaal at his penthouse to discuss the future along with United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Expectations were that United would announce Van Gaal as their next manager on Thursday, with Giggs as his assistant, but any announcement is now anticipated next week. The meeting went well and Van Gaal remains keen to become United manager.
Potential transfer targets have been discussed for weeks, so United are aware of the players the Dutch coach wants, including the club’s own targets. The contract for Van Gaal was drawn up two weeks ago and agreed, but details are still to be finalised.
Van Gaal would have preferred the announcement came sooner, so that he could concentrate on overseeing the Netherlands's World Cup preparations. He does not enjoy being disingenuous when being asked about United on a daily basis in news conferences, nor the distraction that it causes. He wants the deal done and dusted, rather than to be followed around Holland by the media, but agreement was needed over his coaching staff at Old Trafford and he did not meet Giggs until Wednesday.
Giggs likes Van Gaal and admires his forthright style and straight-talking approach. He respects his record, status and experience and says he feels that he can learn from the Dutch coach with the aim of becoming United manager himself in the future.
Giggs, with 963 United appearances since that 1991 debut, is still undecided on whether he will continue playing. He had originally anticipated another season, had David Moyes stayed as manager, but he may quit to concentrate on his role as an assistant.
If he does, he will see his wages cut dramatically from an £80,000 (Dh493,000) weekly playing contract to around a tenth of that as coach. Being assistant manager of Manchester United is not the most lucrative job in football, but it is a position from which Giggs can learn and hope to prosper. There are likely to be other changes among United's coaches, with Phil Neville and Chris Woods expected to leave.
Van Gaal says he believes he can bring in quality players such as Borussia Dortmund’s central defender Mats Hummels, 25, players who will improve a United side who finished seventh in the Premier League last season.
Hummels would be considered a replacement for one of the outgoing central defenders. For example, Rio Ferdinand found out on Sunday that he will not be offered a contract. His teammates were not impressed by the manner in which the news was delivered immediately after the final game of the season at Southampton, but players are seldom satisfied with the manner in which they leave any club.
Nemanja Vidic made his decision to depart at mid-season, when all was not well at United under Moyes. Changes mean he is now a reluctant departee, but he made his decision to move to Inter Milan.
Vidic will be one of several departures, with Woodward telling a panel of New York Stock Exchange analysts yesterday that United’s revenue has increased 26 per cent in the previous year, with third-quarter revenues of £115.5 million.
“This puts us in a healthy financial position to continue to invest in the squad,” Woodward said. “Everyone at the club is working hard to ensure the team is back challenging for the title and trophies next season.”
United hope Van Gaal can improve those fortunes, though who will be assisting him in that task still awaits confirmation.
Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE