Ryan Giggs: It's the big games, like the ones against Liverpool, I will miss most when I retire

Words of wisdom: But Ryan Giggs still gets the Alex Ferguson hairdryer treatmen
If you are talented enough to be invited to train at Manchester United's schoolboy academy, the images of Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards and George Best confront you as you walk to your changing room. 
The message is clear: you are privileged to be joining an extraordinary institution from which some of the world's greatest footballers have graduated. 
Keep walking and eventually you come to a life-size photograph of Ryan Giggs. It is not hyperbole nor is it inappropriate. His picture sits easily alongside those legends of the game. 
And yet, unlike all the other images which adorn those walls, he is not confined to the history of the club but is still, at 37, playing a significant role.
PFA Player of the Year in 2009, there is no imminent sign of decline, although retirement must be due soon.
He released an autobiography in 2006 and it was partly intended as a valedictory note. 'I wanted to write it at the end of my career, more or less, or as it was coming to an end,' says Giggs. 'I think, with the position that I play, that you are coming to the end. But I've been lucky enough, looking after myself, playing with good players, that I've prolonged my career further than I ever thought.'
He still baulks at the suggestion of being the team's elder statesman.
'I'm still not the oldest!' he says. 'Edwin (van der Sar) is the oldest! But I've been here the longest and I'm the most experienced player. Because I've been at the club so long I've probably had that mantle (of elder statesman) for quite a bit now so, yeah, I'm used to it.'
Quizzed on how long this phenomenon can continue, Giggs appears phlegmatic.
'I don't know,' he says. 'The past two or three years I've probably had the same attitude; around this time I start evaluating things, see how I feel, if I'm still having an impact on the team.' 
Yet, in reality, we are witnessing the final days of Giggs as a player. 
Probe a little further and there is an indication of the enormous loss he will experience when he stops. 
Giggs has been a regular member of the United first team almost from the day he left school at 16. 
Today, United take on Liverpool in the FA Cup third round, a fixture which, even in these days of the diminished currency of both the competition and their opponents, remains one to inject a burst of adrenalin through the veins. 
Old Trafford is sold out and Giggs will be desperate to play. 
'I relish the big games even more,' he says. 'You want to enjoy it and make the most of it at the time. When you finish it's the big games which you're going to miss, against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, the big European games, the atmosphere.' 
But here's the rub. Giggs is a respected and valuable member of the dressing room. He has reached the stage of life when Sir Alex Ferguson, feared and respected in equal measure by most players, will even confide in him and seek his counsel. As such, along with Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Van der Sar, he seemingly enjoys elevated status. 
And yet Giggs cannot be sure of his starting place today. It is the tension that defines Ferguson.
'He asks me things like, "What's the mood" of a certain player who's maybe not getting games or, "How do you think so-and-so is doing?". He has always done that with the experienced players,' says Giggs. 
So at which point do you cross the line from being shouted at by Ferguson to being asked advice? 
Giggs stops the question short. 
'I'm still shouted at,' he snorts. 
When was the last time? A long pause ensues, which suggests that maybe he is exaggerating, that perhaps Ferguson has gone soft on him after all these years. No chance. 
'Probably the last game,' he says. 'I should have shot but I cut inside. But it's probably when you turn 30 (when he starts talking to you more). When players turn 30 there is that maturity about them and probably the gaffer gives you a lot more respect and asks your views.' 
Giggs, perhaps more than any player in this country, is best placed to comment on the changing nature of the game since the formation of the Premier League in 1992.
He has been involved in every one of United's 11 title triumphs since then, as well as two European Cups, four FA Cups and four League Cups.
Giggs recalls being offered inducements of kit and boots to sign for clubs as a 14-year-old and the excitement of winning a £500 bonus shortly after breaking into the team. It all seems quaint, in retrospect, an era of almost Victorian standards of restraint compared with today.
'We had a run in what used to be called the Rumbelows Cup (now the Carling Cup) and I got a couple of man-of-the-match awards, a TV and a stereo. It sorted my bedroom out,' says Giggs, who is speaking as part of a Betfair promotion. 
'It was a massive deal for me. Now, £500 to a lad who's on a couple of grand a week is probably nothing.' 
A case of too much, too young?
'It probably is. But that's the world we live in nowadays. I was lucky in that I had people around me, I still lived at home and the manager kept an eye on me. They probably don't have that now because there are so many players getting good money at a young age, and you have to pay them or they'll go elsewhere.
'That never used to be the case. You don't resent it because things have changed. That's one of the manager's strengths - he moves with the times, realises that football changes. When I was schoolboy, I walked through the canteen at The Cliff (United's old training ground) and saw Mark Hughes and Bryan Robson having dinner. I got as far away as possible from them as they were my heroes. I'd have my dinner over there with the rest of the lads and not look up. 
'You were shy because you'd just come from watching them on the TV to being in the same room. So I know how youngsters feel, though they are probably a bit cheekier now than when I was a young player.' 
More streetwise, too, apparently. Giggs recalls how, having broken into the first team on £170 a week, he asked Robson and Steve Bruce whether Ferguson might award him a company car - a Ford Escort.
'Bryan said, "Of course he will. You deserve one. You're part of the first team". Steve looked at me and said, "No problem".' Naturally both were gleefully waiting outside the boss's office when an apoplectic Ferguson almost physically threw out 17-year-old Giggs, cursing liberally as he did so.
'No one's that stupid any more,' says Giggs ruefully. 'And they don't have company cars.' 
At least, not Ford Escorts.