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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Manchester United legend Irwin on Ferguson, Moyes and signing Ronaldo/Bale

How would you assess United’s season overall?

It’s been a fantastic season. Given what happened last season, the league was the priority. Van Persie was a huge signing but the first few months were strange. There were 3-2 wins away at Southampton, Villa, City and Chelsea. 4-3 away to Reading and at home against Newcastle. We had to score an awful lot of goals to win games. It settled down a bit in the last 3 or 4 months and tightened up an awful lot but it was certainly an entertaining first half of the season. It took a while to get going after losing against Real Madrid but United thoroughly deserved to win the league. It’s a long slog – 38 games in the Premier League is tough, physically as well as mentally. It’s a huge competition to win.

Were you surprised how easy it was in the end?

Yes, because it’s an 11-point gap. Chelsea got off to a great start and I thought they and City would be closer. Sometimes it works out like that. I remember when we won our first title in 1993 and it didn’t seem until the last couple of games that we were over the line but we actually won it by 10 points. The team played very well this season and thoroughly deserved to win the league.

What’s your goal of the season?

Van Persie’s at West Ham. His goal against Villa at Old Trafford was fantastic but the pass from Giggs, the control then finish at Upton Park were remarkable.

Game of the season?

There were so many in the first half of the season but I probably have to go with the 3-2 at City.

Player of the season?

It’s close between Carrick and van Persie but van Persie scored so many crucial goals in the first half of the season that he just edges it. Carrick’s had an unbelievable year, though.

What did you think when you heard Ferguson had retired?

Shock. I knew it would happen like that but it was always going to be a shock after so long and given all he achieved.

What do you think was his greatest achievement?

The longevity of it all. Most managers go through some barren years but not Sir Alex.

After we won the FA Cup in 1990, the trophies just kept coming. 38 trophies in 26 years tells a story. The game changed and he changed with it. He had a good team around him as well, coaching and medical staff. Sports science is a big part of the game these days. He rebuilt 4 or 5 different teams, it’s incredible.

What was he like to play under?

Great. There were no grey areas with him. If you worked your socks off, concentrated on playing football and gave everything then he was fine with you. All this hairdryer stuff gets bandied around too much. It didn’t happen as often as people make out and I don’t think it would have the same effect if he did it too often. You always knew exactly what the manager wanted and that was good.

What do you make of Moyes as Fergie’s successor?

Hopefully there shouldn’t be too much change. He’ll have his own ideas and philosophies and I’m sure there’ll be changes eventually but we’ll have to wait and see what he does to begin with. The foundations are there, the club has just won the league so hopefully he can continue that. He’s in the same mould as Fergie and he’s done a brilliant job at Everton with limited resources so hopefully he can continue where the old manager left off.

What’s his biggest challenge?

The sheer size of the club. It was big in 1990 when I arrived but it’s huge now given the global popularity of the Premier League. The enormity of Manchester United will be the first thing that hits him on the preseason tour.

Where do you think he might want to strengthen?

That’s down to him. He’ll have his own ideas. You always need refreshing. One of the criticisms of City is that they didn’t build on winning the league so I think he’ll look to make a signing or two. Obviously I’d be very happy with Ronaldo coming back or Bale making the move north!

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