Darren Fletcher midfield general.
I have a habit of defending United players to the death with my fellow reds that may not share the same belief in some of our squad players.
A number of cases spring to mind, Silvestre, Blanc, Nani, Forlan, Blomqvist. Call it an instinct call it blind faith, more often than not it turns out to be a case of “I told you so” in my favour as I feel vindicated when my mates slowly admit under their breath that “the lad is progressing well”. Now don’t get me wrong, I have also got it drastically wide of the mark, see Bellion, Gillespie & to an extent Barthez (bit of a French theme running through this list, but this is coincidence rather than pointing the finger at our French based scouts!)
This brings me on to the one player I have stuck by through thick and thin since the first time I saw his slight and narrow frame boss the reserves midfield. Something about the way he turned, passed and barked at his teammates hit a passionate nerve with me and I was hooked on one Darren Fletcher.
“Fletch” it can be argued is now one of United’s most important players, going on the evidence of the past two season; testament to this is that it is widely acknowledged his omission through suspension from the Champions League Final against Barcelona in Rome more than put a huge dent in our chance to retain the trophy. This indeed proved to be the case.
It wasn’t an easy rite of passage for Fletcher through the ranks at Old Trafford, signing as a trainee in July 2000, he quickly signed as a pro in the spring of 2001. Early promise had coaches at United and those in his native Scottish ranks, wax lyrically about his ability and comparisons from Beckenbauer to Beckham were the norm. But it was 2003-4 before first team appearances hit double figures, culminating in a starting place in the Cup Final against Milwall and a winner’s medal to boot.
Enter Roy Keane and the sting of a dying wasp. In the wake of an embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Boro in October 2005, Keano lost the plot in an MUTV interview slinging mud at a number of players including Fletcher saying “I can’t understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher.” However in true style and letting his feet do the talking the Scot gave a man of the match performance a month later and scored the winner with a looping header against Chelsea at Old Trafford, ending a 40 game unbeaten run for the Cockneys.
Despite such progression Fletcher found it difficult to break into a strong midfield in the 06-07 season with Ronaldo and the effervescent Scholes and Giggs proving to be a wining formula in the engine room. This trend continued in the 07-08 season with the arrival of Hargreaves, Anderson & Nani and it is my guess that “Fletch” may have thought his time was up and my reputation further damaged as another player headed one way down United Road.
It was in the pre-season of 2009-10 that Fletcher knuckled down and put his mind on holding down a first team place. Injury to Michael Carrick meant that he got the lucky break he needed to start the season and he grasped the opportunity with both hands, scoring in the first two games against Newcastle & Portsmouth as the rest of the team looked rusty after the Summer break. It was at the back end of this season that “Fletch” received his marching orders against Arsenal in the European Cup Semi-Final. Despite an official approach to Uefa by United club officials to overturn the red card, the suspension was upheld. Eto & Messi went on to put pay to our double European dream and we were left to count the cost of a harsh red for the midfielder, despite United & Fletchers third premier league success in a row.
Last season Darren consolidated his place in United’s midfield and he was a driving force all season as Chelsea narrowly took the title by a single point. His performances were vindicated with selection In the Premier League team of the season. Further acknowledgement of the midfield maestro’s performance has resulted in him becoming the youngest player to captain Scotland. The slow start to this season for United is incomparable with Fletcher as he continued where he left off last season being a driving force in the middle. Fingers crossed his attitude and enthusiasm rubs off on the rest of the squad and the league trophy will return home.
Signing off I feel more than vindicated for defending Fletchers early promise but slow start to life as a red even if it did result in heated pub debates. Its time to peer into the youthful bunch at Carrington and dig out my next prodigy…. “Ooh nice skill Ravel!