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Alex Ferguson: Denis Irwin the only player guaranteed spot in all-time Man United XI

denis irwin man united

“I called him an eight out of 10.”

Denis Irwin was such a brilliant footballer, Alex Ferguson only remembers him making one mistake throughout his entire career. Ferguson also said, if he was picking his all-time Manchester United XI, Irwin would be the one player guaranteed a place in the side.

denis irwin man united

Denis Irwin at Man United

Irwin played 529 times for Man United. He was part of the Red Devils team that won seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the European Cup Winners Cup, the Champions League and the League Cup.

The Corkman played against some of the best teams in the world, from Juventus to Barcelona, Inter Milan to Bayern Munich. Yet, Ferguson believes that Irwin only made one mistake on the pitch, such was his excellence, concentration and dependability. He holds Irwin in the highest regard as a footballer.

Ferguson on Denis Irwin

“Now there was a player, Denis Irwin,” Ferguson said in his second autobiography, written with Paul Hayward.

“We always called him eight out of ten Denis. So quick and nimble: quick-brained. Never let you down. There was never any bad publicity with him.”

According to the former United manager, Irwin made the only error of his Red Devils career against Arsenal and it resulted in a late goal from Dennis Bergkamp. However, Ferguson instantly forgave him.

“I remember a game at Arsenal when Denis allowed Dennis Bergkamp to score late in the match, and the press said: ‘Well, you’ll be disappointed with Denis.’

“I replied: ‘Aye, well, he’s been with me for eight or nine years and he’s never made a mistake, I think we can forgive him one.”

“Denis Irwin would be the one certainty to get in the team.”

Ferguson said Irwin was “just about the most reliable professional on our books.”

“People ask you who is your best Man United team. It is absolutely impossible,” Ferguson said in 2013.

“You look at the strikers I had, going back to (Brian) McClair, (Mark) Hughes, (Andy) Cole, (Eric) Cantona, (Ruud) van Nistelrooy, (Louis) Saha, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, (Dwight) Yorke, Teddy Sheringham.

denis irwin man united

“Then to the present players, Wayne Rooney, (Robin) van Persie, Chicharito (Xavier Hernandez). How do you pick out of that? Cantona and somebody else?

“The midfield was probably a bit easier because you have (Roy) Keane, (Bryan) Robson and (Paul) Scholes, they were fantastic players and (David) Beckham, (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Ryan) Giggs.

“But honestly, I would say Denis Irwin would be the one certainty to get in the team. I called him an eight out of 10.”

Irwin’s brilliance for Man United

Irwin started his career with Leeds United and joined Man United from Oldham Athletic in 1990 for just £625,000. It would prove to be one of Ferguson’s finest pieces of transfer business.

The Irishman slotted straight into the team. He was an expert free-kick and penalty-taker and ended up netting an impressive 33 goals for the Red Devils.

denis irwin man united

Irwin was a crucial part of the club’s greatest successes during the 1990s. He was rightly voted into the Premier League team of the decade and now regularly features in all-time Premier League XIs.

Irwin would be the first name on most teamsheets for any side in any era.


Originally published on April 23, 2020.

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