The moment Ryan Giggs took one wrong option in a recent game against Aston Villa, he and a television audience across the globe were immediately reminded of the fire still burning inside his Manchester United manager. The producer cut to a purple-faced Sir Alex Ferguson on the touchline, threatening to burst several blood vessels at once as he made his displeasure known in what lip-readers would doubtless confirm was the choicest Glaswegian vernacular.
Last week Giggs was just about able to smile at the incident, though the word "rueful" came to mind. "It's nothing new, I've had that since I was 12 or 13," Giggs said. "I'm not going to say I don't take any notice but I'm used to it. He's entitled to tell me if I play the wrong pass. And he does. Has he mellowed? A bit. But not a lot. The amount of time he's been manager, you're bound to mellow a little bit. You still want to track your runners and get back in position, otherwise he'll tell you."
Uncomfortable as the manager's famed hair-ire treatment can be, recipients would be more concerned if they felt he no longer cared. Such eruptions this season, amid the often marvellous football United have played, only confirm how close they are coming to achieving something notable again after two years in Chelsea's shadow. Were they to maintain a lead at the top of the table for another four months, Giggs would win an incredible ninth Premiership title, 14 years after his first, when he was still a teenager.
"That would be something special obviously, though it's something I don't think of. You don't think about personal milestones while you're playing. You look back on those when you've finished playing." Which of the previous eight has given him most satisfaction? "Obviously there was the first one, as we'd waited so long and Liverpool had dominated for so long. To win that was a relief. But they're all great because it's such a hard League to win. Chelsea have raised the bar in the last two years with their consistency and the money they've been able to spend. So it will be very satisfying if we do it. But there's a long way to go."
Ferguson, with his more subtle verbal darts, might be glaring at the idea of players even mentioning the possibility of becoming champions again. Where he would have to agree with his longest-serving player is about the quality of football United have been producing.
As Giggs puts it: "We're playing exciting football, we've got some exciting young players, not just the obvious Rooney and Ronaldo but others who are equally exciting. As long as that continues, it would be a joy and a privilege to play in that sort of team. Henrik [Larsson] has given everyone a boost. With his fitness and his experience - and his age! There are three or four older than me now. But I try everything to prolong my career and to stay sharp and fit."
Another 18 months of first-team football, until the end of his contract, ought to take him past Sir Bobby Charlton's club record of 759 appearances. After that he will be 34, acknowledgment of which might be considered depressing but is currently adding to the enjoyment of a potentially memorable season: "At 21 you think it's never going to end. When you can see the finishing line, you want to enjoy every game of every season. I don't know if I've got another United contract in me, 18 months is a long way away. If I'm still playing well and consistently, I'd like to stay. I would not want to go anywhere else."