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Exclusive: Important to attract the next generation of Indian players to the game- Denis Irwin

Written by: Tushaar Sachdeva


Manchester United's legendary right-back shares his views on the current scenario in Indian Football, the treble winning season and much more.

The Manchester United fans in Mumbai had a feast when 1999 treble winner Denis Irwin and 2008 UEFA Champions League winner Louis Saha when the Red Devils' global ambassadors came to the metropolis for the signature #ILOVEUNITED match screening and fan-engagement event ahead of the match against Burnley, which United won 0-1.

Irwin was an integral part of Manchester United's famous team of 1992

Irwin, the Irish full-back played for United for 12 long years and is famously known for his sublime season in the 1998-99 treble triumph. He came to Old Trafford in 1990 and won a staggering 20 trophies that included seven Premier League crowns, four continental and international honours amongst others. In the time he spent in the red half of Manchester, he made a total of 529 appearances, that currently put him 9th on the club's all-time appearances list. The former defender spoke exclusively to Khel Now on the sidelines of the event reflecting on the past and looking ahead to the future. Excerpts:

Q1. You were part of the treble-winning side of 1999. What made that team so special?

A- The team spirit was the main thing. We had some really good players too and played under a really good manager. We always believed we could score goals and had experienced a good run of games, going unbeaten for about SIX months I think, which created belief amongst the team

Q2. Tell us about the final In Munich. You were trailing for most of the game, did the team always believe?

A- We did because we always knew we could score goals. We have four centre forwards who were capable of scoring and a few midfielders who were on double figures when it came to scoring goals. The manager had instilled in us the mentally to keep going, which is the United way. We keep going until the end.

Q3. It’s nearly two decades on from that remarkable success. We know the game has changed a lot. But, according to you what is the most significant difference from then to now apart from the astronomical transfer fees?

A- The game has become more global, certainly the Premier League which is now watched all over the world. The fees are huge, but the money in football in general is bigger and the investment is a good thing. It’s a lot more professional than in my day. Teams have access to better facilities, every training ground has their own physio team, doctors and experts. Technology has alSO changed the game a lot. It’s a lot different to my day.

Irwin playing for Manchester United in the 1992-93 season

Q4. Sir Alex Ferguson managed to assemble great teams across 2-3 different generations. So, why is the 'Class of 92' regarded as his greatest?

A- I am not sure you would say they were the greatest. They were certainly the young and up and coming team. I remember he said his first team to win the Premier League were mentally stronger than any team he has managed. 2008 were a better squad who won, in Moscow. He said the 93/94 squad were strongest, so the Class of ’92 would lie across this.

Q5. An obvious question and no doubt one that you’ve been asked many times before. What made Sir Alex tick?

A- He lives for football. Lives and breathes the game. His background has taught him the will to win and the determination to succeed. He has been in football for a long time and learnt from his experiences. You don’t stay in the game for that long without making mistakes, and you learn from these to succeed.

Q6. For a long time, English football had an established quartet. That order has obviously been shaken up in recent seasons. What are the challenges for a club like United in this era?

A- The Premier League has always been competitive but I think more teams want to get in on the action. Seeing what Leicester achieved a few seasons ago would have been a huge boost as it shows that it is achievable for the smaller teams and that is the beauty of the Premier League

The challenges teams have, especially those competing in Europe is the physicality of the EPL. Teams in Europe, your Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus are all getting better and better and its becoming physically tougher, something that I think effects not only European games but also the World Cup.

Q7. How do you see the league shaping up in the next decade or so, especially with the influx of money. Will other teams continue to emerge as title challengers?

A- I think so, yes. There is more investment in football and the gap between the standard of facilities available to teams will get smaller. It’s the beauty of the game, which is why anyone can challenge for the league. As I said, Leicester is a classic example of what can be achieved.

“India will definitely improve!” Denis Irwin | Louis Saha #ILoveUnited


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Q8. In theory, the EPL has the best players in the world. So, why aren’t the clubs doing so well in Europe?

A- I think, as I have said, the physicality of the EPL doesn’t help teams going into Europe or even on the world stage. It’s a tough league to play in.

Q9. Thoughts on the current squad. How far are they from the title?

A- They have improved a lot under Jose Mourinho and I think they will continue to improve. It was always going to be difficult after Sir Alex left and we have gone from 4, 5, 7 in the league. Ok we were 6th last year but we also won trophies and you can see a vast improvement this season.

Q10. India recently hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup. What impact can hosting a tournament like that have on Indian football?

A- I have been to India seven or eight times now and each time I can see the popularity of the game growing. Hosting a tournament like the FIFA U-17 World Cup will only help to grow the game and being a youth cup, it’s at the right level. It’s important to attract the next generation of players to the game.

Rapid Fire

Q1. Your 5-a-side team players you have played with?

A- Schmeichel, Robson, Kean and Van Nistelrooy. And me!

Q2. The current best player in the world in your position?

Dani Alves.

Q3. Manchester United is the greatest club in the world because?

History, tradition and success.


Published: Sun Jan 28, 2018 07:12 PM IST


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