Alex Ferguson's reaction to horror tackle on Denis Irwin is crazy 90s football at its best 4 years ago

Alex Ferguson's reaction to horror tackle on Denis Irwin is crazy 90s football at its best

It really set Alex Ferguson off on one.

First, let's set the scene. It's November 1997. It's the Champions League group stage. The De Kuip, Feyenoord's spectacularly intense footballing amphitheatre had been electric at the start of the evening, only to be silenced by an Andy Cole hat-trick (the first treble by a United player in the European Cup for 29 years).


With United cruising and putting one foot in the quarter-final, future Manchester City player Paul Bosvelt decided to leave his mark on the game. Actually, scratch that. He flat-out tried to end Denis Irwin.

As Irwin picks up the ball, the Irishman controls it before the midfielder intervened with leg-breaking intent. As you'll see in the clip below, Bosvelt crunches Irwin's left leg, leaving the left-back writhing around in agony.

I mean, I know it was over 20 years ago, but how did the referee not brandish a red for that? In fact, Sandor Puhl, the referee in question, didn't even book Bosvelt.


The image of Irwin in serious pain was a particularly alarming one for United fans as, just two months earlier, Roy Keane ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in the first of his two infamous collisions with Alf-Inge Haaland.

While Keane ultimately took savage satisfaction in ending the Norwegian's career in almost cinematic fashion four years later in a memorable Manchester derby flash-point, Irwin did not hold a grudge.

"The tackle was so unnecessary at the time as we were leading 3-0 and cruising to comfortable victory, but at least the lad was big enough to hold up his hand and apologise," the Cork-born defender said.

Bosvelt apparently offered an apology to Irwin both privately and via a fax sent from Feyenoord to Manchester United.


Irwin was admirably unperturbed by the whole thing but the same can't be said for his manager. Fergie was sickened - and he didn't mince words.

"A fucking disgrace," the Scot offered to his counterpart, Geert Meijer, in the dugout next to him.

Ferguson had been bristling following a series of unsavoury incidents during the game, including Gary Neville receiving a firm elbow to the face from Argentinian striker Julio Cruz.


Fergie's theory was that Meijer had instructed his players to go out and hurt United after a robust challenge from David Beckham in the clash at Old Trafford ended Giovanni van Bronckhorst's involvement.

"I spoke to Meijer and he referred to the first game at Old Trafford and the tackle that David Beckham made that meant Giovanni Van Bronckhorst was taken off," Fergie said. "But that is insane thinking, a very silly thing to say."

But Fergie wasn't content with merely selecting a few choice words for the Feyenoord coach there. At full-time, as Bosvelt made his way towards the tunnel, the United boss confronted him.

"You scumbag, you ratbag, you dirty bastard," he told him.

Presumably shouting to his players, "don't swap shirts with those dirty bastards'. 'This is insane."