W Power 2024

'Maybe in the future we will play a game here too'

Former Manchester United players Wes Brown and Denis Irwin on the team playing in India, the rise of football in the country and fan engagement

Published: Mar 15, 2024 10:59:46 AM IST
Updated: Mar 15, 2024 11:19:12 AM IST

'Maybe in the future we will play a game here too'Wes Brown (L) and Denis Irwin (R) signing T-shirts for fans. Image: Courtesy Manchester United
Manchester United recently organised its fan engagement event #ILOVEUNITED in Mumbai. It was a full Manchester United experience for fans in the build-up to the match—from giveaways and photo opportunities to football challenges, interactive games and special guests—before a live screening of the Premier League match against Everton which United won eventually by 2-0. We caught up with Manchester United former players Wes Brown and Denis Irwin who were part of the event.

Q. How was your #ILOVEUNITED experience in India?
Wes Brown: It was great to win the game and to meet all the fans and have another great experience. I am glad to be back in India. We've all the food, and the sun as it's not the best time in England. And the win was a cherry on the top.

Denis Irwin: 
It's a place we keep coming back to because obviously, we're aware that football is growing in India. It's such a big cricket nation. We understand that. But it’s great to see football rise in the country as well.

Q. What do you have to say about Indian footballers?  We are still unable to compete at the top league. What would you attribute that to?

Wes Brown:  India has many good players. I have played in the ISL and the standard here was quite good. The players are naturally gifted. However, the one thing I will say is that the difference between India and England is the stability of the game. In England and Ireland you pretty much pick a ball up straight away and kick a ball and that’s the same for cricket in India. The facilities while I've been here have got a lot better. The kids, in general, are training earlier, which is a very big part because there may be many talented people but maybe you don't see that in a later age. It'll take a few years, but it's getting there. I think the love for football is here as young kids are very passionate about football, and it will only get better. That will need to be complemented with the facilities and getting the kids to train in the basics at a very early age. When I was growing up, I had a ball in my hand and was kicking it about every day and hoping that the ball becomes second nature to you. A lot of the players I spoke to in India started at a later stage, whereas in England you start very early.

Denis Irwin: It's all to do with grassroots and the numbers down there. Football is getting more widely watched in India and has become more popular and eventually you'll see it seep down to the grassroots. In England or Ireland, you get brought up playing football like cricket here in India. Hopefully, more boys and girls will start playing football. And you'll see the benefit of that in the years to come.

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Q. Do we see the main team or legends playing in India in the near future?
Denis Irwin: I would very much hope so. That's obviously down to the people higher up at the club, and they're very much aware of what's going on here and the rise of football. We keep coming back with #ILOVEUNITED in places like Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai etc. so maybe in the future we will play a game here too.

Wes Brown: The team has a very busy schedule. And if that was to happen, it maybe could happen one pre-season. Obviously once the Premier League and other important international tournaments have finished. I hope it does happen because it'll see a great turnout.

'Maybe in the future we will play a game here too'Fans ecstatic after Manchester United defeated Everton by 2-0. Image: Courtesy Manchester United

Q. What do you have to say about the recent shift in the management of the club?
Denis Irwin: It’s a positive step. Sir Jim Ratcliffe grew up in Manchester, as a Manchester United fan. He was at Camp Nou to watch us play in the 1999 Champions League final. He's obviously made his win in a career as a businessman and became very successful on the back of that, but he's always been imagined as a fan and has probably lived a dream of taking over Manchester United one day. And obviously, this is a great move for him. Everyone and everything around the club has been positive as well and I don't think he's naive enough to think it will happen overnight. It will take time.

Wes Brown: Everyone around the club can see the uplift that he's got to the club along with his staff. And like Denis said, I think in a few years you'll see how that’s really helped. But it’s very positive. Now it's about getting back to winning ways. It might take a few years but he's definitely a person who not only understands business but understands football as well so I think there are good times ahead.

'Maybe in the future we will play a game here too'

Q. The last few seasons haven’t been the best for United. How does the club aim to spring back?
Wes Brown: 
Once this season is done Sir Jim and the managing side of the people will look at it. This season we have had a lot of injured players so the manager has not probably had his best 11 for a lot of the season. We still have a small chance of getting into the Champions League. This summer there'll be some big decisions made with new players coming in and players leaving, like every season. There’s going to be a plan going forward and you have to just stick to it season by season. And hopefully, with that plan, everybody starts to achieve more.

Denis Irwin:
You'll see a lot more going forward, I suppose from the summer onwards. And yeah, hopefully it's all positive.

Q. The United women’s team is doing fairly well. What do you have to say about them?
Wes Brown:
The women's team has got bigger and bigger especially in England and in general the league is on TV a lot more. Everybody recognises the women's team, the Manchester United team and the other stats on the other team as well. And I think they've, he's really progressed in that area. Now a lot of girls are starting to play from a very young age and want to become professional footballers, which is a great thing.

Denis Irwin: They qualified for the Champions League this season and finished third last season. I'd say from about 10 years ago to where it is now, they have made some huge steps. And it's very widely watched which is for the better of sports. The team have moved across into Carrington as the club have had some new facilities built there. So that's a positive step.

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