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Giggs would never have played at China Cup, but new Wales boss can show he means business by bringing Bale

A 20,000-km trip for two international friendly matches would not have washed with Alex Ferguson, but boot is on the other foot for new Welsh manager

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 3:20pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 9:30pm

It’s fitting that Ryan Giggs starts his career in full-time management with a friendly in China because when he was a player there was no chance he would have been on the plane.

The new Wales manager made his international debut in 1991 but only played his first friendly nine years and 29 caps later. As for making a trip to China with the Wales national side? Forget it.

Giggs played in 10 friendlies for Wales and only one was outside Cardiff. That game, against Brazil in 2006, was at White Hart Lane in London – almost the same distance as the Welsh capital from his Manchester home.

The reason for Giggs skipping 30 friendlies during his 16-year international career is widely reported to be that Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson refused to allow the winger to play, a measure the Football Association of Walesagreed to in exchange for their only world-class player being released for competitive fixtures.

Now he is the manager, the boot is on the other foot.

You can understand why a manager would be concerned at his player making a 20,000km (12,000-mile) round trip from their English Premier League or Championship club to play in the China Cup.

It’s even worse for Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, whose journey will be even longer.

The outstanding talent of this generation of Welsh footballers, Bale has long been treated with kid gloves, travelling to matches by private jet and not expected to play friendlies to help manage his never-ending list of injuries.

Bale has played a cumulative 26 minutes across the last seven Wales friendlies and only 15 of his 68 caps have been in non-competitive fixtures ­– a record strikingly similar to his new international manager and childhood idol.

Giggs’ predecessor as Wales boss, Chris Coleman, promised last November that Bale would be at the China Cup “if fit” – a comment made after Bale suffered another injury setback in Madrid and it was revealed he had missed two-thirds of the club’s previous 60 matches.

It also laid out the loophole for the Madrid man to miss out in March.

Bale is fit now, having started all his side’s La Liga games since coming on as a substitute in their El Clasico loss to Barcelona in late December.

But it is not hard to imagine the pressure Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid will put on Giggs if Bale is carrying a knock in March and the holders are still in the Champions League.

The new Wales manager will be sympathetic as he was in the same boat as a player, having to manage his international career and injuries to continue winning trophies with his club.

But Giggs will also be sympathetic to the commercial demands of the modern game.

In the years since he retired, Giggs has gone on to see the game from the point of view of being Manchester United’s assistant manager, as the owner of a football club, as a commercial ambassador and as a businessman.

He’s also been to China many times over the years. He played three times for United in China during his time at the club, the first the Budweiser Cup against Beijing Hyundai in 2005. The last visit before he retired was the club’s match against Shanghai Shenhua in 2012. Giggs didn’t play but he had been in Shanghai a couple of months earlier for the launch of Chevrolet as the team’s official automotive partner at Shanghai Science Museum.

These would all have been understood to be part of the club’s commercial commitments, something he now has a few of himself.

Just last summer he – along with his Class of ’92 teammates and fellow Salford City co-owners Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville, and Paul Scholes – was in Hong Kong and the mainland on behalf of sports gaming app Ballr.

The China Cup might be regarded as an official international tournament by Fifa but it, too, is a commercial enterprise, started by conglomerate Wanda rather than the Chinese Football Association and now named for air-conditioning giant Gree.

At its introductory press conference it was branded as an opportunity to let Chinese fans see “top ranking national teams with their best players taking the field” and Bale playing will have been key to Wales being invited. Giggs will be well aware of this and he needs to make sure Bale is in Nanning, no matter what.

Balance was something Giggs was famed for as a player and the China Cup gives him an early opportunity to show he has it as a manager.