The Greatest XI: Dependable Denis

Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90. It really did capture my imagination, which got me thinking, what or rather who would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks, I shall be selecting my one to eleven.

3. Denis Irwin – Left Back

Denis Irwin was a real ‘Steady Eddie’ as a player. His performances for first Leeds United and then Oldham Athletic would alert Sir Alex Ferguson, to the Irishman’s ability. United had played Irwin’s Oldham, during a semi-final of the FA Cup, the previous season. Irwin had clearly impressed. Manchester United would pay Oldham around £600,000 for Irwin’s signature, having done enough to convince Fergie to splash the cash in the summer of 1990.

“I would say that Denis is the one certainty to get into the team. I called him an eight out of ten” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Brilliant with both feet, Irwin would go on to have a glittering career at Old Trafford. Nineteen major trophies won, would make Irwin Ireland’s joint most successful player, tied with Roy Keane. A dead ball specialist, Irwin would go on to score 22 times in just over 500 appearances for the Reds, a decent return for a full-back. Playing at right back to begin with, Irwin would help the side lift the Cup Winners Cup in his first season. The emergence of Gary Neville would later see Irwin moved in the left full back position, his ability to use both feet really helping the United team. A steady, resilient defender, who would sit in behind the flying, Ryan Giggs, but also readily able to help out in attack.

Irwin pips Patrice Evra for the left-back spot. His goal record and set-piece technique just edges the Irishman into this best eleven. Irwin was also part of the treble winning side. Even going into his mid-thirties, Denis would still keep out the up and coming Phil Neville. Unfortunately for Irwin, he would miss the FA Cup final of ’99. Suspended after picking up two yellows during a feisty encounter at Anfield, just weeks previous. Irwin would have mixed feelings about Anfield. In 1994, Irwin curled in an absolutely fabulous free kick, straight into the top corner. United would blow a 3-0 lead that night. Back in ’99, Irwin, after already having been booked, is shown a second yellow, for clearing the ball down the line after the ref had blown his whistle. The second yellow, followed by a red would result in a ban from the final. Being part of the team on the pitch in Barcelona, just three weeks later, more than made up for that.

“At Highbury in one game, Denis gave a bad back pass in which Dennis Bergkamp ran onto and scored. The press after the game asked if I was disappointed. I said ‘ well one mistake in ten years isn’t bad’ He was an excellent player” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

Irwin would play at United for twelve seasons, winning seven Premier League trophies, three FA Cups, the Cup Winners Cup and a Champions League, amongst other honours. The three FA Cup wins, all came as part as either a double or treble winning season! Denis would play for his homeland on 54 occasions, reaching the last sixteen in the World Cup of 1994 in the USA.

Dependable Denis would make his last appearance at Old Trafford on the final day of the 2001 season. Sir Alex gave Irwin the captain’s armband. United would draw 0-0 and Irwin would then head south to Wolverhampton Wanderers, on a free. A year later, on his return to the Theatre of Dreams, Irwin was given a rapturous reception by the home fans. Well deserved, in my opinion. Denis, lad, you get the number three shirt in my team.