Manchester United exclusive: Denis Irwin on his best ever Red Devils moment and the rise of the attacking full-backs in Premier League football

Manchester United exclusive: Denis Irwin talks to Sporting Life about all things Red Devils
Manchester United exclusive: Denis Irwin talks to Sporting Life about all things Red Devils

Manchester United legend Denis Irwin sat down with Sporting Life to talk all things Red Devils, including his best moment in a Man Utd shirt, how the legends of his day would get on in today's Premier League and how the full-back position he filled with distinction has changed beyond all recognition.

Irwin won all there was to win in the game during his trophy-laden spell at Old Trafford, and with the current crop not performing to that standard, he was quick to point out that Sir Alex Ferguson and the stars of his generation could easily cut it in today's modern football.

Much has changed in the game since the heady days of the 1999 treble winners, but Irwin is in no doubt that the best players could play in any era - and the best managers could manage in any era.

Irwin also had plenty to say about modern player in his old role as full-back, which is now one of the most attacking positions in football in the very best teams, while revealing what his greatest moment in a United shirt was - and there's been plenty to pick from!

How would Sir Alex get on in today's football?

Sir Alex Ferguson back at Old Trafford with Manchester United legends
Sir Alex Ferguson back at Old Trafford with Manchester United legends

"You’ve got to be able to handle the pressure of playing for Manchester United as a player, and as a manager you've got to handle all these players differently - they're almost like rock stars these days.

"But Sir Alex would be fine, he’d be brilliant. People always ask me about all the old players and would they be able to play in this modern day, but all the great players could play in today’s era. A lot of the guys I played with, but even before my time with the likes of George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton, they’d be brilliant in today’s football.

"Sir Alex, although he was an old fashioned manager in some ways he was also a forward thinking manager, he brought all the sports science guys in and always surrounded himself with great coaches, so he was before his time and he’d be a fantastic manager now."

And what about the famous Sir Alex Ferguson hairdryer?

"It didn’t happen as often as people think, because I don’t think it’d have the same effect. Listen, Sir Alex just wanted the very best out of his players. Players had different personalities, some needed an arm around the shoulder and some needed a clip around the ear. He was great at working out who needed what.

"Sir Alex would accept if you made mistakes but if you let your standards drop then he would remind you of that.

"Everybody loses games, we lost 5-0 up at Newcastle and 6-3 I think down at Southampton but still won the league – it happens in football and you need strong personalities in that dressing room and Sir Alex’s real skill was recognising who those players were and getting the best out of them.

"He just wanted players to improve, if you were doing that and working your socks off then he’d be happy.”

Irwin on today's modern full-backs

"When you play for a top club who are going to be on the ball a lot you’ve got to be able to defend, in my day first and foremost you had to be able to defend because you always came up against wingers.

"Firstly as a full-back you’ve got to be athletic, you’ve got to be very comfortable on the ball and you’ve got to be able to join in on the attack on the outside. With everything else down the middle it’s a different avenue of attacking and it’s often the full-back providing that, so you see full-backs now costing £50m is the norm and you’ll probably see that rising.

"They’ve still got to be able to defend first and foremost because that’s your job, but certainly you’re encouraged to go forward a lot more and they’re a vital part of an attacking force now.

"The modern full back has to be able to run, has to be able to go forward, has to be able to cross and even every now and then has to contribute to the goal scoring stakes."

Irwin's best moment in a United shirt?

"Everybody remembers 1999, with the manner we won the treble beating Bayern Munich, but the first year we won the Premier League here in 92/93 it was such a huge weight off the club's shoulders.

"The best night was when we came here and played Blackburn when we’d already won it because Oldham had done us a favour and beaten Aston Villa. That was a huge night, it was a great night and it was a massive relief after what had happened the year before.

"We needed that first title. The fans were desperate for it, the players were desperate for it and the club was desperate for it and I think that was a huge moment and was a great night to be here it really was.

"And we won, which was quite a surprise after the night we’d had before that game! But it was a joyous occasion."

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