Ryan Giggs could be the natural successor to Sir Alex Ferguson

Time marches on and takes no prisoners. Most of us can get away with it, just; but when you play for Manchester United there is no hiding place. One poor spell and your birth certificate will be flourished as a prime piece of prosecution evidence.

That’s precisely the dilemma facing Ryan Giggs, who celebrates his 39th birthday next month. When he was hauled off at half-time against Tottenham last weekend, Man Utd fans with alarmingly short memories wasted no time in suggesting he has passed his sell-by date.

Giggs has lost a little pace and mobility, but the brain is as sharp as ever, and his professional instincts are increasingly valuable. Sir Alex Ferguson spared him the Champions League trip to Transylvania and will ensure that United do not waste the last of the summer wine.

Yet even the greatest club manager has a finite career. There is an increasingly transitional feel at United; every major decision must be put into the context of the inevitability of Fergie’s retirement. His legacy will be multi-faceted in terms of strategy and humanity.

Giggs is merely the latest United icon to harbour managerial ambitions. He has his UEFA A coaching licence and admits he has made a conscious effort to learn at the master’s feet. He could be the missing link in the Old Trafford dressing room.

Money is not an issue – the last football rich list suggested Giggs is worth £33m – but ambition is everything. The transition from playing staff to coaching team did not sit easily with Paul Scholes, whose initial form suggests he will come under pressure to reconsider his intention to make this his last season.

Giggs, a thoughtful, reflective character, is a more natural coach. He understands the Manchester United way. He embodies the hunger and relentlessness required to survive at what, despite its increasingly corporate nature, is a family-oriented football club.

His record guarantees respect and his personality is suited to the subtleties of individual instruction. If they have anything about them – and they must – each of the younger players brought into the club will have their own Giggs highlight reel lodged in their brains.

Face facts: Giggs is nearing the end of his playing career. But also face the future: Giggs is tomorrow’s, rather than yesterday’s, man.