Denis Irwin: Perfect XI

Former Manchester United, Oldham and Republic of Ireland full-back Denis Irwin picks his Perfect XI for FourFourTwo in September 2009.

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David Seaman

He had everything you could ask for in a keeper. Safe, steady and a great shot-stopper. He was a very big part of Arsenal’s defensive strength and one of the main reasons why they challenged Manchester United’s dominance of the Premier League.


What a nightmare to play against. The last thing you need is an overlapping full-back, creating two-versus-one situations against you. He’d bomb on for 90 minutes and wouldn’t give you ?a minute’s peace. I was lucky that I had Ryan Giggs helping me out. Although Cafu was a fantastic attacking threat, ?he was also a very capable defender. Never seemed to age.

Paul McGrath

The best centre-half I ever played with – and I played with some very good ones, including Bruce and Pallister, and Jaap Stam. Outstanding natural talent and he could head the ball further than I could kick it. When you consider the injuries he played with throughout his career, you realise just how good he was.

Paolo Maldini

He’s done it all. A stylish centre-half or left-back, who could play football but wasn’t afraid to put in a tackle either. To play at the level he did for ?as long as he did is phenomenal – and ?look at the number of trophies he won. ?His reading of the game, timing of the tackle and composure set him apart from the rest.

Stuart Pearce

Pearcey was a physically imposing, tough-tackling full-back. Not only was ?he an excellent all-round defender, but he was also very good going forward, chipping in with goals. He had so much power and drive and, like me, often took free-kicks and penalties.

Right midfield
Hristo Stoichkov

I played against ?him when we [Man United] got beat by Barcelona 4-0 in the Nou Camp. He was so tricky, it was near-on impossible to mark him. Even though he was left-footed and played on the right, he was so quick and strong that you couldn’t show him the outside because he’d just beat you.

Centre midfield
Paul Gascoigne

A player of immense talent. Gazza wasn’t the quickest, but he was so creative and physical that he could beat his man. On ability alone England have never had a more gifted midfield player. Had it not ?been for his problems, who knows what he could have achieved?

Centre midfield
Bryan Robson

My captain. If you’re going to have Gazza in centre-midfield you’re going to need someone in there to protect him, and Bryan Robson is ?the perfect foil. Driven, committed, tireless and brave. The Steven Gerrard of his era.

Left midfield
Gheorge Hagi

Very similar to Stoichkov, and when you played against him you knew you were in for a tough game. A really clever player with a magic left foot. You’d try and stop him getting the ball, but he would take up positions where it was impossible to pick him up. You just hoped the players around you would help stop him.


Quick, skilful, deadly in front of goal and a pain ?to mark. Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister said they’d never played against anyone with such quick feet. ?We couldn’t cope with him that night in Barcelona. He scored two goals and tore us apart.


When he was in his prime, Ronaldo was frightening. He had such incredible balance and power for someone so quick. Played with that Brazilian swagger and scored loads of goals, including some incredible ones.

Sir Bobby Robson

I&�rsquo;m going to pick Sir Bobby because he’s managed ?a lot of these great players. He’s the sort of manager you want to play for. Achieved tremendous success wherever he went and always carried himself very well. A real football man.


Alan Shearer
Top player. Always very difficult to play against. Great goalscorer, strong in ?the air and could hold the ball up.

Cristiano Ronaldo
I played against him when I was at Wolves. He was a little raw, but even then you could see he was going to develop into a top player.

Roberto Baggio
He didn’t have the best game against the Republic of Ireland when we played Italy in the 1994 World Cup, but he went on to have a fantastic tournament. ?A sublime player.

Interview: Ben Welch. From the September 2009 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!