Saturday 24 February 2018

Denis Irwin: Man United will fight and won't suffer drought like Liverpool

Denis Irwin was in Dublin to announce Setanta Sports' coverage of the Champions League and Europa League for three years from 2015/16. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Denis Irwin was in Dublin to announce Setanta Sports' coverage of the Champions League and Europa League for three years from 2015/16. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Garry Doyle

Denis Irwin insists Louis Van Gaal is the man to prevent Manchester United falling into a prolonged slump.

Currently fourth in the Premier League, and in danger of slipping to sixth this evening if both Tottenham and Arsenal win, United are unrecognisable from the team who strolled to their 13th title in 20 years during Alex Ferguson's final year in charge.

Nearly two years on, the empire Ferguson slowly built has quickly crumbled, just like Liverpool's did in the 1990s following Kenny Dalglish's departure from Anfield, and just as United's did in the '70s in the aftermath of Matt Busby's retirement.

Yet Irwin does not believe the sporting recession Old Trafford patrons are experiencing marks the beginning of a trophy drought, denying that this mini-crisis represents a carbon copy of United post-Busby, Leeds post-Don Revie or Liverpool post-Dalglish.

"I can't see United going through the kind of decade that Liverpool had in the '90s," said Old Trafford legend Irwin. "The club, top to bottom, will fight. They will do anything that is required to get back up there. If that means spending more money this summer, they will.

"But what everyone needs to have is patience. Football is like any business. You may have ten years of success but at some point you will have a couple of indifferent years. The fact United have Van Gaal, an experienced manager who has done it no matter what league he has been in - Spain, Germany and Holland - is a positive thing.

"His self-belief is enormous. His training is good. Players, I know for a fact, enjoy playing under him. Like Sir Alex, he has old-school qualities but he employs younger coaches who bring fresh ideas.

"I've no doubt things will work out for him at Old Trafford. It worked for Sir Alex because you knew, as a player, that if you didn't continue to improve, you'd be shown the door. And Van Gaal has a similar winner's mindset.


"For whatever reason, it didn't happen last year for David Moyes but I think this fella will get more time. There has been a progression this season and everybody has accepted now that we are in a battle to finish in the top-four."

Some things, however, are not accepted by the Old Trafford fan-base. They are used to watching their teams attack with width, used to seeing Wayne Rooney employed as a striker, used to listening to Sam Allardyce defend the right to use route-one football, not to hear him berate Van Gaal for adopting a similar philosophy.

Read more: Coleman can fulfil potential by leaving Everton, insists Irwin

Most of all, they are used to seeing 'Long-Ball United', as Allardyce christened them on Sunday, win trophies. That hasn't happened since Ferguson left, and unless Van Gaal delivers the FA Cup, won't happen this year.

"He should use it as a springboard," agreed Irwin. "But the priority has to be get into the top four. We have missed the Champions League. And it will be a battle to get back there. Tottenham are improving. Arsenal are always there. Southampton aren't going away. Liverpool are in the mix."

And yet for all their problems, Irwin - winner of 19 trophies during his 12 years at the club - believes Van Gaal will address the issues.

"Expectations are high at the club, essentially because they had 26 years of fantastic success under Sir Alex," he said. "There is always going to be a period of change, whatever manager comes in. Whoever is in charge will bring in his own ideas and his own philosophy, his own staff, his own players. That takes a bit of time.

"United's home form has been good - aside from the defeat to Southampton. They had problems with the defence at the start of the season. That has improved. They had problems with injuries. They have cleared up.

"They have lost just one in 17. They are five points off second place. It's just been about getting consistency. You need players who are fit all the time and I think we are seeing more of that now."

Denis Irwin was speaking on behalf of Setanta

Irish Independent

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