Denis Irwin likes Spain, and (surprise) doesn't like France
One of Ireland’s finest is in town, thumping for Manchester United’s July 16 game against Celtic at the sodded-for-the-occasion Rogers Centre. Denis Irwin was a big part of United’s glory days of the 90s and early 00s and was Ireland’s right back at the USA 94 World Cup, including that stirring 1-0 win over Italy in their opening match. I sat down with Denis, now working with Manchester United TV, at the Four Seasons Hotel on Thursday, to talk about World Cups come and gone, that moment last November (remarkably, he stays pretty composed) and United’s upcoming visit.
Pick it up after the jump...
Q: We tend to look at these matches like the one United will
be here for as a cash grab for the teams, and they are that, but this is a long
tour at five games and nearly three weeks. How important is it for the team and
players from a game standpoint?
A: It’s important for somebody like Owen Hargreaves, who
hasn’t had a preseason in two years. If you get through preseason and the
training and the games injury free and get some physical running under your
belt, it can stand for you the reset of the season. You must play tough matches
as well – I think it shows you how far the MLS has come. (Man United) playing Philadelphia and Kansas City,
you’ve got Bolton coming over to play Toronto,
right? ManchesterCity are coming, and Chelsea, there’s rumours Spurs are coming
over here – it shows you that the MLS league is getting better.
Q: C’mon. Do you pay it any heed?
A: We know what’s going on. But obviously in Europe, when the big leagues are going on, that’s what
you concentrate on.
Q: I thought maybe you’d be trying out at left back while
A: I’m too old. I’ve done all that.
Q: Are you sure? You should see TFC’s left back. I think you
should try out.
A: (Chuckles) How long have Toronto FC been around?
Q: Fourth year.
A: And they sell out every game, is that true? We passed the
stadium on the way in from the airport. That looks pretty good...
Q: You look at some of these players at the World Cup this
summer will have played 60-odd games in the season. You know that pace. What’s
A: I played in the 50s and well over 60 if you include
international games. It is a lot, and to expect an athlete to perform once a
week and sometimes twice a week players do tire at this stage of the season.
That’s why English clubs struggle in the Champions League. They’re out on their
feet by the end of the season. There’s no respite in the Premier League. It’s
so quick and so hard.
Q: Are you going to the World Cup?
A: No, I’m working it for RTE in Ireland. I’ll be in a studio
Q: Oh yes, Ireland.
Speaking of that, where were you back in November when it all happened? Did you
manage to keep the sharp objects away?
A: I was actually walking part of the Sahara
desert for charity, and I got a load of texts coming in – ‘you gotta see this’
kind of thing. It wasn’t till four or five days later that I went back and
actually looked at the incident with Mr Henry. It was disappointing because it
was the best Ireland had
played under Trappatoni, and particularly in Paris. There’s no guarantee we were going to
go through, but we missed the last World Cup too, so it’s disappointing even
more. The World Cup’s a poorer place without us. We travel in numbers, we like
Q: So it’s anybody but France,
that’s still the feeling in Ireland,
A: Oh yeah. Anybody but France
– and England.
Q: That’s a given. Who is your tip?
A: I think Spain
are the outstanding candidates. They’ve got the best players, the best squad –
you’re going to pick up suspensions and injuries, so you need more than just
11. They were always known as a team that failed on the big stage, but having
won the Euros recently, that will kick them on a bit. They’ll be under a fair
bit of pressure, but if you look at their midfield there’s every chance a guy
like Fabregas might not even play. They’ve got Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso, Fabregas
… if Torres stays fit, Villa’s a goal scorer as well. They’ve got experience at
the back, they’re got everything. Reina’s the top ‘keeper in England, and he probably won’t even
play with Casillas there!
will be there, Germany
might not be great but they’re mentally very strong and difficult to beat. The
media in England expect (England) to get
at least to the semis, with the draw they’ve got as well, the kinder half. But
they’ve got a few problems injury wise. Argentina, you just don’t know what
you’re going to get out of them but they’re obviously talented.
Q: What about a dark horse?
are a good side, but they’re in a difficult group. Maybe an African nation
might be strong enough – I’m not sure they’re there yet. … I think Serbia could
surprise a few. They’re hard to beat, they don’t concede many goals, Vidic is
there – he missed the last World Cup, and they gave up loads of goals.
Q: You don’t see an Africa
team? They’ve never had better conditions being at home, haven’t they?
A: It’s going to be wet and cold, their winter – Not sure
that’s going to suit them. I think it’s the last World Cup since Argentina to be
played in winter. That’ll suit the English, won’t it? Even though the altitude
won’t. I don’t know if they’re there or not. They’ve been knocking on the door
for a while. You look back at 98, 02, 06, they didn’t have the nous, the
cleverness. Now you see more players. You look at the quality of players the Ivory Coast has
– the Toure brothers, Drogba, Kalou, Eboue. They’ve got a good selection of
players, but whether they have enough to win the game, I’m not sure yet.
Q: What do you remember about ‘94?
A: The heat. The first game at Giants Stadium (against Italy - see video link at bottom) – we had
the wrong kit on, and the kitman didn’t realize it until we were out there so
the game was delayed a bit. The team photo has only 10 players in it – Terry
Phelan was in still getting changed in the dressing room. New York was having a heat wave and
everybody was talking before that the stadium would be 66 per cent Italian.
Instead it was 75 per cent Irish. It was just a great occasion – and instead of
relaxing after we had to go to the racecourse there (Meadowlands) to go back
and celebrate with fans.
Q: Since then, do you ever have to buy a meal in Dublin?
A: Well … I do get a few pints paid for, yeah.
People still remember. It was a big moment. Actually, America’s probably at the stage Ireland was at
when I was growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Football was No. 3 to Gaelic
football and hurling in the Irish sports. Jack Charlton came in – it was only
then that football became the No. 1 sport. You’ve obviously got three or four
other sports (here), but it’s good to see it’s growing and the league is up and
running and doing well.
A: Roy did a great job at Sunderland, got ‘em up, kept ‘em up … but the culture of
the moment is if you don’t get instant success, you don’t get time. Hopefully
the people in charge at Ipswich will give him
time. This is obviously going to be a big year for him. It’s a strange league,
that championship. You’ve got teams that play good football, and others who
just want to kick lumps out of each other. It’s not an easy league to get out
Q: Can he make it as a manager?
A: Yes. He’s young, he’s learning. He sets his standards
very high. Without a doubt he was the best player I ever played with. His
standards as a manager would be exactly the same.
A: I don't know about that. He’d do great on TV, I think. He’s
opinionated, but at the moment he wants to concentrate on his managing.
Q: You’ve been to South Africa. What do you think of
this World Cup – will it be a success?
A: It’ll be a success. There were question marks about
American in 1994 and Korea/Japan in 2002. There’s always those. The stadiums
will be finished. I’ve played in Jo’burg – it was fine. There’ll be a good
atmosphere. They’ve got these things that make noise, what do they call them?
Q: The vuvuzela.
A: That’s it. I was talking to Bryan Robson, he brought his Thailand team over there to play South Africa
recently and he told me the noise in the place was unbelievable. Too loud, he
said, for his players to hear his instructions (from the sideline). That must
be a recent thing. They weren’t around when I played there, they’re more
recent. Last time I played there was in the 1990s, we played at Ellis Park, and
I think that’s one of the stadiums now. Great place.
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