Denis Irwin picks his best Manchester United teammates

The 51-year-old, who spent 12 rewarding seasons at Manchester United, was a part of the squad which recorded a memorable treble in 1999.

Denis Irwin is in the city to witness the final of the Cup Noodles-Man U Soccer School Season.   -  K. Murali Kumar

A few years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson named Denis Irwin as the “only certainty” to get into his dream all-time Manchester United team.

A modest Irwin, who is in the city to witness the final of the Cup Noodles-Man U Soccer School Season, graciously accepts the compliment.

“I was very proud to hear that from a great manager like Sir Alex. He has won so many trophies, and has managed so many great players. But I suppose that as a left-back, his choices were limited. It was probably a toss-up between me and Patrice Evra,” Irwin says, in an interaction here on Sunday.

The Irishman has, however, been at the receiving end of Ferguson’s “hairdryer treatment” — a terribly unpleasant admonishment in the changing room. “It didn't happen too often, but I've seen my share. All Sir Alex really did was to remind us of the standards that he had set for us. He’d lash out at the team when we were up 3-0 at half-time, and say that we were just plain lucky to be ahead. But when we were say 0-2 down, he would always be positive and encouraging,” Irwin says.

The 51-year-old, who spent 12 rewarding seasons at Manchester United, was a part of the squad which recorded a memorable treble in 1999. In a span of just 10 days, the Red Devils defeated Tottenham in the last fixture to win the Premier League, went past Newcastle in the FA Cup final, and then finished the season with a dramatic win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.

“Gary Neville called it the best 10 days as a professional footballer, and I’ll second that,” Irwin says.

As a way to relax, Irwin would often turn to playing chess. He was, in fact, part of his school chess team which finished second in the National championships. His club mate, the mercurial French striker Eric Cantona, fancied himself as a bit of a chess wizard. Irwin says Cantona didn’t really stand a chance against him.

“Eric was not on my level. He certainly didn’t fancy himself after playing against me,” he says with a chuckle.

Irwin, of course, rates Cantona highly as a footballer. Asked to name some of his other talented teammates, Irwin says, “In terms of skill, it has to be Paul Scholes. He had vision, creativity, and goal-scoring ability. I’d say Ryan Giggs was the best dribbler. But my two personal favourites were Bryan Robson and Roy Keane. Both were born leaders, robust and tough."

And what about his toughest opponents?

“John Barnes was a great player for Liverpool. In Europe, the Barcelona pair of Hristo Stoichkov and Gheorghe Hagi were just superb. They were so clever, had a low centre of gravity, and were so very quick, It was very tough to mark them,” he says.

  Dugout videos