Irwin accepts apology for tackle

Denis Irwin has accepted Paul Bosvelt's statement that the tackle which felled the Irishman during Manchester United's Champions…

Denis Irwin has accepted Paul Bosvelt's statement that the tackle which felled the Irishman during Manchester United's Champions' League defeat of Feyenoord in Rotterdam was not malicious. Millions of television viewers saw Irwin's leg buckle beneath him after he was caught by a ferocious tackle by the Feyenoord player late in the game, at a stage when the Dutch team trailed 3-0.

Initial fears that the Irishman's leg had been broken were happily not substantiated, but he is still not expected to return before the New Year because of ruptured medial ligaments.

Now Manchester United have made public an apology which Bosvelt faxed to Irwin at Old Trafford, just days after the incident in which he said that he regretted making the tackle.

He said that he had no idea it was so bad until he watched a replay of the incident on television. "It was not my intention to injure him - it was just something which happened," he said.

The incident infuriated United manager Alex Ferguson and many of his players, but yesterday Irwin said that he had no residual anger about the incident. "I was obviously very annoyed once the initial shock had subsided, particularly when I watched the incident replayed on television.

"But if Bosvelt is man enough to apologise publicly, I should be man enough to accept it - and I do. Had I been standing on my left leg at the time, I think it might well have been broken. As it happened, it just went with the tackle and that saved me to some extent.

"People say I was very lucky to escape without a fracture - and I was. But the reality is that I've missed some big games for Manchester United and Ireland because of it and there are still more to come. That's a heavy price to pay for any tackle."

Irwin, who was able to undertake light work in the gym within days of the incident, was cleared to start jogging on Monday, but his comeback game is still some way off. "I was told initially that I would be out for between six and eight weeks and it looks as if it's going to work out like that."

Roy Keane, even more seriously damaged in a tackle at Elland Road seven weeks ago, is back doing light work after an operation for the repair of a cruciate ligament. At this point, the emphasis is on getting some flexibility back to his damaged knee and club officials are still adhering to earlier statements that he will not play again this season.

Manchester United meet Kosice in their return game in the Champions' League at Old Trafford tomorrow and the expectation is that David Beckham, their England midfielder who scored after being called off the bench against Wimbledon last Saturday, will be named in the starting line-up.

After a statement from the Jamaican Football Federation that they need more experienced players for their first appearance in the World Cup finals, Shelbourne are moving to solve at least one of their problems. Manager Damien Richardson is dispatching videos of Shelbourne's games to Jamaica to support Mark Rutherford's claims that he can contribute to their challenge in France.

Rutherford, born in Birmingham of Jamaican parents, represented England at under-18 level, but since the game was a non-competitive one, it has not impinged on his qualifications to play for Jamaica.

"When Jamaica drew with Mexico to qualify for the finals, I made up my mind on the spot that I would travel to France as a fan and support them," he said. "Now there is a possibility, admittedly a slim one, that I could be going there as a player and I'm excited at the prospect."

Rutherford is not the only National League player with designs on a place in the cast for the World Cup finals. Falcon Rose, the South African who is in his first season with Sligo Rovers, hopes to be included next month when that country names its preliminary squad of 44 players.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that perimeter fencing is likely to be scrapped from almost all of the 10 stadiums hosting next summer's finals, marking a significant break with French tradition and a victory for the tournament organisers.

"The tendency is certainly towards removing all fencing between spectators and the pitch," the French Sports Minister, Marie-George Buffet, said yesterday at a briefing on the government's involvement in the 33-day event, which kicks off on June 10th.

Michel Platini, the former French captain and joint chief of the France '98 organising committee who has consistently campaigned for no fencing, said he hoped as many as eight of the venues would be fence-free.

In another World Cup-related matter, Mexico's Serbian-born coach Bora Milutinovic was sacked yesterday. Juan Jose Leano, president of the Mexican federation, said that the decision had been unanimous despite Milutinovic "having done a good job" in guiding Mexico to next year's finals.

It would have been Milutinovic's fourth successive finals: he took Mexico to the 1986 quarter-finals, where they lost on penalties to Germany, Costa Rica to the last 16 in 1990 and repeated the feat with hosts United States four years later.

Among the list of possible successors are Argentinian Cesar Menotti, who won the 1978 World Cup with Argentina.