Transfer Tales: Denis Irwin

Thursday 08 June 2023 14:45

On this day in 1990, Alex Ferguson pulled off one of his greatest signings when landing Oldham Athletic defender Denis Irwin.

The Republic of Ireland international was one of the most consistent performers of the glorious Ferguson era, and helped the team win the European Cup-Winners' Cup in his first season, before being a key part of a side that would dominate the early years of the Premier League.

If there were any doubts over his suitability, these must have been quashed by two accomplished performances in the 1990 FA Cup semi-finals. Irwin was excellent in the 3-3 draw and United's 2-1 triumph in the replay, perfectly showcasing his talents and convincing Ferguson that the tidy full-back was a potential bargain.

Denis Irwin discussed his time with Leeds and Oldham in his UTD Podcast.

Newspaper speculation, before then, had already suggested the Reds were keen for him to make the short move from Oldham in the summer.

“I was letting my contract run at Oldham because I wanted to move,” explained Irwin. “Even though there was no Bosman [ruling] in those days. I knew Sir Alex was watching me as I’d seen him up at Boundary Park, plus we always used to get a list of the people coming to watch. Oldham was always going to be a stepping stone for players.”

Other clubs were also circling with a view to landing the ultra-reliable defender.

“Sheffield Wednesday and Big Ron Atkinson were interested in me,” he revealed. “I knew Manchester City were looking at me as well, after we played them in pre-season.

"But United put in a bid on 6 June which was accepted by Oldham, otherwise it would have gone to a [transfer] tribunal. We could have waited another three weeks but I obviously agreed to sign straight away. I’d had four great years at Oldham and just felt it was the right time to move up to a higher level.”

Latics boss Joe Royle had no intention of standing in the way of a dream transfer for his player.

“Alex told me he'd had the lad watched more than 20 times before he made his bid and never had a bad report,” recalled Royle. “That's the reality of Denis Irwin - he never lets you down."

The deal was done for £650,000 with Oldham banking a considerable profit on a player acquired on a free transfer from Leeds United, four years earlier.

Nonetheless, he turned out to be an incredible bargain for the Reds.