Gary Neville’s take on Denis Irwin shows how highly he rated the brilliant Irish defender

Gary Neville

A fitting tribute to a superb player.

In terms of players that the Class of ’92 could learn from, Manchester United had quality players in every single position as Fergie built a side that ended their 26-year wait for the title.

While the common perception is that the signing of Eric Cantona from Leeds proved to be the catalyst that ushered in United’s dominance of the Premier League, the squad was brimming with big characters and talented players.

Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Gary Pallister, Mark Hughes, and Paul Ince were just some of the players in their squad, but for Gary Neville, it was Denis Irwin that left the most lasting impression on his young football education.

During that title-winning season, the Corkonian played 42 times in all competitions, scoring five goals and setting up three more.

Regarded by Alex Ferguson as, pound-for-pound, his greatest ever signing, Irwin would become the joint-most successful Irish footballer in history, a record he shares with fellow Manchester United stalwart Roy Keane, having won 19 trophies in his career – this includes 7 league titles, 2 FA Cups, and the Champions League.

Blessed with the ability to pass the ball brilliantly, versatility that could see him play on either flank, and a level of consistency that’s extremely rare – even among professional footballers – Irwin became a stalwart of Manchester United during the club’s most successful ever period.

In his book Red, Gary Neville gave an insight into just how much he learned from the Irish full-back.

“When it came to my education, I couldn’t have been luckier than to have Denis Irwin to study. Has there been a more versatile full-back in English football? He was able to switch from left to right-wing without skipping a beat, he could attack and defend with equal ability, take free-kicks and penalties – and he stayed modest and hard-working throughout. He must be the best left and right-back that United have ever seen.

Later on in the autobiography, Neville includes Irwin in his all-time best XI players that he played with at the club. In fact, Neville puts the Corkman at right-back, just so he could accommodate Patrice Evra in the team.

“Denis Irwin was so good you could put him on either flank and he’d be brilliant in either position. It’s hard to remember a mistake he made, and, on top of his reliability, he could attack,” said Neville.


(Originally published on September 23, 2020).

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