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World Cup winner rates Denis Irwin alongside Ashley Cole

Denis Irwin rated alongside Ashley Cole.

Denis Irwin was just as good a full-back as Ashley Cole, according to French World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit.

While Cole’s name is usually put forward when discussing the greatest full-backs of the Premier League era, Irwin is often overlooked, despite the Corkman racking up a huge trophy haul during his time with Manchester United.

Irwin also had an eye for goal, and was regularly called upon to take free-kicks and penalties for Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering team.

Petit has been speaking about how the defender may have been overlooked due to the fact that he played in the same era as some greats in his position.

Emmanuel Petit on Denis Irwin and Ashley Cole.

“Denis Irwin was always underestimated during his career and I don’t understand why,” Petit told Pundit Arena via Premier League Odds.

“I remember Denis Irwin was great. He was aggressive and a good tactician. He was mentally strong, good with set pieces – I can’t remember how many free-kicks he scored for his country and club, but I always thought he was underrated.

“When people say Ashley Cole, although I have respect for him, nobody should forget Denis Irwin. He is often overlooked because he was playing in the same generation as Maldini and Roberto Carlos.

“If he was playing today, he would definitely be up there as there aren’t many players that can play with both feet. He was very clever with the ball.”

Denis Irwin


Irwin’s career was winding down by the time Cole came on to the scene at Arsenal, which was around the same period that Petit left the Gunners for Barcelona.

Cole’s career bridged the gap between the old view of full-backs being predominantly there to defend, and the current age in which the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James are seen as important attacking outlets for their clubs.

In this respect, Irwin was very much ahead of his time, as he was equally adept at attacking down the left or right wing, while forming close working relationships with wingers such as Ryan Giggs and David Beckham.

For Ireland fans of the time, Irwin’s talents certainly haven’t been forgotten, nor has his importance to Jack Charlton’s international team of the early to mid-1990s.

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