Denis Irwin: It is never too late

Manchester United hero Denis Irwin has words of encouragement for those looking to carve out a career in the cutthroat business of football.

Football News: Denis Irwin.

By Marcus Chhan

If there was one bit of advice for Singapore's aspiring footballers from Manchester United legend Denis Irwin which stood out when he was in town recently, it was to never give up on your dream.

Easy for him to say. He's played over 500 games for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

And yet, even a man like Irwin, who has 13 winners' medals from his time at Old Trafford, knows about second chances. After failing to impress at Leeds, a 20-year-old Irwin signed for Oldham Athletic on a free transfer in 1986. Four years later the versatile full-back caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson during an epic FA Cup semi-final clash with the Reds. He joined United that year for £625,000 - making him Pound for Pound one of Ferguson's greatest signings.

We caught up with Irwin last weekend when he was a guest scout at open trials in Singapore for Nike's The Chance - a global recruitment drive by the sports apparel giant to find the best young amateur players in the world.

Over 500 aspiring footballers aged between 16 and 24 turned up for the trials last weekend where Irwin along with The Chance Singapore head coach V Sundramoothy and another local legend in Aide Iskandar ran their eye over the talent.

More than just being a glitzed-up global talent search by Nike, there is real hope in Singapore that it could unearth one or two future gems for the national team. That it could perhaps find a footballer that the Singapore FA's own scouting system may have missed. Even if you're aged 24, apparently there's still hope.

"I had a second chance," Irwin told

"I was released at Leeds when I was 20 so sometimes it doesn't happen for you but you got to have the belief in your ability and grab the opportunity, so it is never too late."

He added: "Every young lad's dream is to try and become a footballer. For the older lads too it's like a second chance. So I think it is great that [amateur] players from Singapore, if they do reach the level, [get the chance to] train at clubs."

Football is a universal game and in Irwin's view practice will always make perfect no matter where you are from.

"Enjoy it because it is an enjoyable game," Irwin said.

"Listen to your coaches, practice as much as you can because all you need is a ball and you can practice skills. Skills are very important in this day and age.

"At the Manchester United Academy, from the age of 5, 6 or 7 that's basically all they learn - skills. Get them into a young age. Practice as much as possible; all you need is a ball so get out there and practice."

At last weekend's event, Irwin handed out invitation cards to three young hopefuls who now move on to the Nike's The Chance Boot Camp in May.

Who knows? With a lot of luck and a lot of practice, they may just end up playing for Manchester United too.

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