Giggs controversy consumes England

L’affaire du Giggs consumed much of the soccer world in England today, casting a pall over Manchester United’s run-up to the Champions League finals this Saturday at Wembley.

Giggs, one of the most popular and successful players in British history, is alleged to have consorted with a reality TV show contestant named Imogen Thomas. In and of itself, this would merely make for sordid tabloid fare and an awkward conversation around the married Mr. Giggs’s dining room table. What made this story explosive is that Giggs apparently sought a controversial gagging order, called a "super-injunction," to prevent newspapers from reporting this. Yesterday he saw that order shattered.

Monday afternoon, an MP, invoking parliamentary privilege, destroyed the worst-kept secret in British soccer, naming Giggs in the House of Commons before the Speaker of the House could stop him. It capped a wild weekend that had seen Giggs’s name become a trending topic on Twitter as well as the object of merciless chants from Blackpool supporters at the final game of the season. It also revealed how far behind the old media is in the Internet age, causing such consternation that even Primer Minister David Cameron was forced to mount a hasty task force to confront the issue.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who last night watched his youth team take their 10th Youth Cup at the expense of Sheffield United, was in no mood to answer questions about his midfielder today, deflecting inquiries and instead attempting to turn attention to the game in his team’s immediate future. Giggs himself was a no-show at the open training session at Carrington.

Super-injunctions have been controversial, and there has been a dogged, if diffuse, campaign to root them out using platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The gag orders go far beyond anything our First Amendment would allow, preventing newspapers from revealing the names of the parties involved, the incident itself, and the fact that such a gag order even exists. In the case of celebrities, such stifling is probably no more than an annoyance, but there is growing concern over the use of super-injunctions by companies to head off disparaging reports.

MP John Hemming – who himself has had several affairs, fathering a child with his secretary – has been a vocal critic of the injunctions and last week outed another holder, the former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland. In an interview conducted with Sky last night, Hemming said that he had been moved to name Giggs because the player’s lawyers had threatened to sue both Twitter and the users who tweeted the details of the alleged affair.

Today, using Hemming’s words as a shield, every newspaper in Britain had Giggs’s picture splashed on its front page. That said, the now-toothless court order remains in effect despite three attempts by newspapers to have it lifted; the court judged that the Twitter postings showed that Giggs and his family were in fact at risk of harassment.

Giggs is not the first soccer player to attempt to use a super-injunction to shield himself from public scrutiny. At least two other big names have sought assistance from the courts. But the spectacular way in which this has blown up is certainly the worst possible outcome for the United star, at exactly the wrong time.

What effect this will have on United is uncertain. When Wayne Rooney was caught up in similar allegations this past fall, the fallout had a major effect on his game and how fans viewed him. Giggs is another story altogether, but his previously squeaky-clean image has taken a massive blow before one of the biggest games of his career. Privately, Ferguson has to be fuming, if not at his key man in the midfield, then at the media machine which has engulfed him.

Tonight, Giggs will surely be in the stands as his former teammate Gary Neville receives his testimonial. When or if he will break his silence over the matter is another question entirely.

Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay’s Premier League.