Manchester United star admits prospecrt of hanging up his boots is 'scary thought'
It was minus six degrees when Ryan Giggs arrived for training at Manchester United yesterday morning, yet he admits that the prospect of foregoing the daily journey to Carrington is becoming a "scary thought".
Giggs, however, will have to wait until next week to make his 850th senior appearance for the club, with this evening's match at Blackpool called off because of a frozen pitch.
Whether Giggs, who was 37 five days ago, will still be a United player on his next birthday, the mercurial winger now concedes, is by no means certain.
The question comes up every year now. It has shadowed Giggs for at least three seasons, but while the Welshman, who will mark the 20th anniversary of his United debut next March, has regularly viewed December as decision time, this season is different.
"For me, where I'm at right now is the thought that I've had a stop-start season, so I just want to get back playing. I'm not going to play every week, but I want a consistent run over a couple of months to see where I'm at," he said.
"But it gets closer every year, the thinking that 'this could be my last season'. I'm closer this season than I was last season, but that's probably because I haven't been playing regularly.
"If I have a run in the team and play well, then I will probably want to carry on. If I don't, then I'll have to assess it.
"But I think I have a relationship with the manager where, if I really wasn't enjoying my football or I didn't think I was being effective, I could just sit down with him and we would both be honest to each other and say 'Right, that's it'."
A hamstring injury sustained against West Brom in October has left Giggs on the sidelines for six weeks and has restricted him to just 10 appearances this season.
When fit, Giggs continues to be one of Alex Ferguson's key figures in United's biggest games and, rather than appearing resigned to making the hardest decision of all next summer, he admits that he has yet to grasp the thought of life after playing.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, so it will be strange and weird when it stops. It's a scary thought, but not one that I am too worried about, although I've no doubt that I will be bored.
"I'll have to find something to do because I get bored when I have a couple of days off. What I'll do, I just don't know. You speak to players who have finished playing and they just say that you have to play as long as you can and enjoy it. That's what I'm doing at the moment."
Giggs admits that the possibility of managing Wales has come too soon, with his coaching badges yet to be attained and doubts still swirling in his head as to what happens next.
As United's most decorated player, an ambassadorial role at Old Trafford is guaranteed should Giggs wish. While he continues to play, however, he remains Ferguson's on-pitch lieutenant, a mentor for the club's emerging talent.
But having endured Tuesday's 4-0 Carling Cup defeat against West Ham alongside some of the next generation, Giggs insists the youngsters must find their own way.
"You can have an off night," he said. "The first team has had a few off days this season and got away with it, so it can happen.
"But sometimes it can help the players. It can give them the kick up the backside that they need and make them realise it is tough at times.
"The squad is 24-25 players, so it's not as though the older guys like myself have retired and the younger lads have come in to take our places.
"We are all part of the same squad. But it will never change. No matter who has gone before you, when you get your chance, you have to take it. You are at Manchester United so you are going to have to replace great players if you are getting into the team.
"When I was breaking into the team, it never entered my mind who had gone before me. You just have to believe in your ability."
United's younger players, such as Jonny Evans, Anderson, Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda and Bebe, have been billed as the club's torchbearers when Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville have left the stage.
The new generation has yet to prove its readiness to phase out the old guard, but Giggs insists it is wrong to expect like-for-like replacements for a batch of club icons.
"Over the last 20 years, lots of good players have left United. How do you replace Keaney? You don't. You are never going to get another Roy Keane, but different players come in and the team evolves that way.
"When Roy left, Scholesy took up the mantle in the centre of midfield and Michael Carrick also. They are different players, but still effective in different ways.
"It was the same with Eric Cantona. Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Teddy Sheringham all came and did well in his place.
"We're not over-reliant on one player. Last year, we relied on Wayne's (Rooney) goals, but people still had to create those goals for him. This year, while he has been away from the team, we have done okay. We haven't been firing on all cylinders, but we have done okay goals-wise.
"The team moves on and that has to carry on if the club is to be successful. If it doesn't, we won't be successful."
The club's success in persuading Rooney to commit to a new five-year contract in October following his threat to leave United has banished a looming cloud over Old Trafford, despite the antipathy shown towards Rooney by some supporters.
Giggs insists, however, that the furore generated by Rooney's contract stand-off did not upset dressing-room harmony.
"Within football and the environment of the dressing-room, it was nowhere near as big as everyone on the outside made it. It was understandable that it generated so much coverage, but within the club and training ground, it was just one of those things. For the older players like myself, we had seen it all before.
"When Eric (Cantona) threatened to retire, the manager went to see him in Paris and he also spoke to Cristiano (Ronaldo) after the 2006 World Cup. There were also times with Roy, too."
If Giggs does decides to call time on his stellar career at the end of the season, he admits there will be regrets.
Not playing in a World Cup, near misses in the Premier League and in Europe -- the disappointments sustain him more than the successes.
"Tuesday night and the days since have been a nightmare. You just constantly think of where you went wrong, but it was just that kind of night.
"Nights like that are reminders that you have to improve and keep your focus. Football will always kick you in the teeth, no matter how successful you have been, how many trophies you have won.
"Not winning the league last year still bugs me. You go back to certain games, like Blackburn away, when we drew 0-0. It's still in your head that, if we had won the game, we'd have won the league.
"It's the disappointments that keep you going." (© Daily Telegraph, London)