When someone earns the nickname “Mr Dependable,” whilst playing for a club like Manchester United, you know they must have been doing something right.
In fact, the small Irishman rarely put a foot wrong, such was his unbelievable consistency. A man who kept away from the media spotlight, Irwin simply got on with his job week after week and focused his attention on maintaining his high standards of performance.
After impressing against United in an FA Cup tie, in 1990, Irwin was picked up for a mere £625,000 from Oldham Athletic, making him one Sir Alex’s greatest bargains. His immediate success with us, in winning the Cup Winners Cup, in 1991, was indicative of his highly successful 12 year spell with the Red Devils.
A virtual ever-present after his first season, Denis soon became a popular player amongst fans, who appreciated his true value even though he was widely underrated by the majority of the media. Whilst the team of the early 90’s would gradually be rebuilt, Irwin remained throughout – a testament to his reliability. Having initially taken up the right-back berth, he soon made the left-back spot his own, from which he was excellent going forward.
A scorer of many vital goals, Irwin was famously the beneficiary of that pass from Eric Cantona, in a 3-1 victory against Spurs, but he will also be fondly remembered for his set-piece ability, especially from the penalty spot. Irwin netted 33 times in total for United, and made even more assists.
Despite being only 5 ft 8″, Irwin was a brave player who never shirked his defensive responsibilities. Comfortably two-footed, he was also very adaptable during the game, able to cut back onto his right to deliver crosses or go right down the byline- either way his ventures forward often resulted in either goalscoring chance or a shot for himself – which he could unleash equally well with both feet.
Arguably one of the most important players during Ferguson’s reign, Irwin was also a regular for the Republic of Ireland; playing more than 50 times for his country, until retiring from International duty in 2000 to prolong his club career, after playing at 2 World Cups.
With the rise of the younger players at United, Irwin found his place under threat from the emerging Phil Neville. During the historic 1998-99 treble-winning season, he was harshly sent off against Liverpool for kicking the ball away and was forced to miss the FA Cup final through suspension. Yet despite being 34 years of age, he returned to start the European Cup Final in favour of his understudy.
In 2000 he was awarded his testimonial against the clubs’ great rivals Manchester City. Ironically, for a player who stayed away from the treatment table for most of his career, he was forced to leave the pitch early during his game after a nasty challenge from George Weah.
Irwin’s first team opportunities then began to wain in the latter half of 2001, as his understudy, Phil Neville, and foreign acquisition, Mikael Silvestre, rose to prominence- whom he managed to hold off for a season.
As the final 12-months of his contract extension drew to an end, Irwin announced that he would be leaving United to move onto a fresh challenge, in the shape of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Upon his return, for Wolves, Irwin was was clapped onto the Old Trafford turf– a fitting tribute to a fine player who gave his all in his 529 appearances for the Reds.
Sir Alex on Denis:
“Denis has my gratitude for what he has done… I’m proud to have had player of his ability and integrity in my team.”
After retiring at 38, Denis still visits Old Trafford at times, and is often seen doing work for the club channel MUTV. Being the 2nd most decorated player after Ryan Giggs, Denis Irwin is almost certainly the finest left-back in United’s history.
Debut: 25 Aug 1990 v Coventry City (H)
Last Match: 11 May 2002 v Charlton Athletic (H)
Premier League: 92/93, 93/94, 95/96, 96/97, 98/99, 99/00, 00/01
FA Cup: 93/94, 95/96, 98/99
League Cup: 91/92
Community Shield: 90, 93, 96, 97
Cup Winners’ Cup: 1991
European Super Cup: 1991
Intercontinental Cup: 1999
UEFA Champions League: 98/99
About Steve Williams
A massive Manchester United fan, Steve is a relative newcomer to the blogging world but a longstanding reader. Having played in Premier League Academies himself, Steven takes a keen interest in youth/reserve football at Manchester United, away from the first team.