Irwin set to leave United after 12 years

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The Independent Online

The Manchester United full-back Denis Irwin has revealed he will quit Old Trafford at the end of the season after 12 years at the club.

Irwin signed a one-year extension to his contract in the summer which will run out at the end of this season. The former Republic of Ireland international, 35, admits he will walk away from United then – but expects to move to another club.

"When you get to around 34 you start to think you are facing your last season and I thought last term would be the end of it for me here," Irwin told the Manchester Evening News.

"But this campaign is definitely my last with United. I may play on beyond that elsewhere but it won't be here. You just know when it's your time and next summer will be it for me at Old Trafford. I have thought it might be the end in the past but now it really is."

And Irwin admits he was "hurt" by being left out of United's big Champions' League matches last season – but accepts age is "creeping up" on him: "Not playing in the big games against Valencia and Bayern Munich was a shock to me and I was very disappointed. Having played in nearly all United's big matches for 10 years, not being involved hurt.

"But I was probably fighting the reality of it all last season. I am nearly 36 and I have to understand I won't play in every match any more. Age is creeping up so there has to be a touch of realism now."

Irwin confessed he "thought seriously" about leaving United in the summer but manager Sir Alex Ferguson's failure to land a big-name full-back helped convince him to stay.

"I had a good long think during the summer," he said. "It was mostly First Division clubs who showed an interest. All except one of them meant me uprooting my family. But I would have done that if it had been a bigger club who had wanted me. There was one club who I thought seriously about but, to be honest, nothing really jumped out at me. But it would not have fazed me moving away from Old Trafford.

"I also waited a long while before making my mind up to see who we'd buy in the summer. Obviously there were reports of United buying Lilian Thuram or Bixente Lizarazu but when they didn't that helped me make up my mind.

"I only have one or two years left in me now but only one will be with United. You never know when your legs will suddenly pack in on you, but at the moment I feel fine."

England's women warm up for their opening World Cup qualifier against Germany with a friendly international against Denmark at Northampton's Sixfields Stadium tonight.

Following the retirement of striker Marieanne Spacey and captain Mo Marley, and with the American-based duo of striker Kelly Smith and midfielder Danielle Murphy playing with club sides in the US, the match provides coach Hope Powell with a chance to introduce some younger players to senior competition.

Powell has named no fewer than six 19-year-olds in the squad with Casey Stoney, Carly Hunt, Aran Embleton and Amanda Barr all making the step-up from under-18 level to join regulars Katie Chapman and Rachel Unitt in a squad with an average age of just 24.

Denmark reached the semi-finals of the European Championships in Germany during the summer and the match will be one of the toughest friendly fixtures England have encountered in recent times.

Facing stronger opposition regularly is a point the national coach will put forward when she hands her blueprint for the future of the women's national team to FA technical director Howard Wilkinson on Friday morning.

But Powell is also keen to see the setting-up of Under-21 and Under-15 teams to supplement the current Under-18 and Under-16 sides. Six of the eight countries who competed in Germany play Under-21 football and the coach believes following suit is the only way England can hope to mount a challenge for the 2007 World Cup.

"It's very difficult to come straight out of the Under-18s into senior international football – what we need is something in between," she admitted.

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