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Alex Ferguson’s furious reaction to nasty tackle on Denis Irwin

alex ferguson united

“What Bosvelt did to him was a crime.”

Alex Ferguson was famously protective of his Manchester United players. The Scot would be tough on his squad if they stepped out of line, and he undoubtedly ruled Old Trafford with a ruthless streak for over 26 years.

Yet, Ferguson would defend his squad to the hilt in public and created a siege mentality amongst his players. If someone wronged one of his players, the former Man United boss was the first to defend them, as this clip from 1997 shows.

alex ferguson united

Paul Bosvelt’s horror tackle on Denis Irwin.

In November 1997, Man United played Feyenoord in the group stages of the Champions League. Ferguson’s side won the match 3-1, with Andy Cole scoring a hat-trick. Paul Bosvelt’s horror challenge on Denis Irwin, however, marred the game in Rotterdam.

With eight minutes of the tie remaining, and United in complete control, Bosvelt landed a potential leg-breaking challenge on Irwin.

The Ireland defender was left on the ground, writhing in agony. Yet, Bosvelt wasn’t even booked for the tackle.

Ferguson’s furious reaction.

Luckily, Irwin’s leg wasn’t broke. The Cork-native suffered ruptured medial ligaments and didn’t play again for two months.

But it could have been a lot worse, as evidenced by Ferguson’s furious reaction. It was probably the angriest the Scot ever was on the sideline.

alex ferguson united

Ferguson was beside himself with fury. “A fucking disgrace,” he said to Feyenoord manager, Geert Meijer.

At full-time, as Bosvelt walked towards the tunnel, the Man United manager confronted him, appearing to say, “You scumbag, you ratbag, you dirty bastard,” he told the Feyenoord player.

“Don’t swap shirts with those dirty bastards,” Ferguson told his players.

The Scot was more measured when speaking about the incident in his first autobiography, published two years later. However, he still hadn’t forgiven Bosvelt.

alex ferguson united

“What Bosvelt did to him was a crime.”

“Andy Cole scored a hat-trick in Rotterdam, where the Dutch tackling throughout the night was a combination of desperation and brutality,” Ferguson wrote.

“There was always the likelihood that somebody would be badly hurt and there was dismay far beyond our club when it turned out to be Denis Irwin, who was viciously cut down by the flying studs of Paul Bosvelt.

“Nowhere in football is there a more popular player than the unassuming Irishman, who is the ultimate professional, one of those quiet, under-praised heroes who constitute the bedrock of all great teams.

“What Bosvelt did to him was a crime. Yet the experienced Hungarian referee, Sandor Puhl, did not even punish the Dutch midfielder with a yellow card.

“Not surprisingly, UEFA subsequently banned Puhl from the remainder of the competition.”

Irwin accepts the apology.

Irwin accepted Bosvelt’s apology. The future Manchester City midfielder insisted that he didn’t intend to injure the Irish defender.

“I was obviously very annoyed once the initial shock had subsided, particularly when I watched the incident replayed on television,” Irwin said a few weeks after the challenge.

“But if Bosvelt is man enough to apologise publicly, I should be man enough to accept it – and I do. Had I been standing on my left leg at the time, I think it might well have been broken. As it happened, it just went with the tackle and that saved me to some extent.

“People say I was very lucky to escape without a fracture – and I was. But the reality is that I’ve missed some big games for Manchester United and Ireland because of it and there are still more to come. That’s a heavy price to pay for any tackle.”

You can watch the incident below.

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