Whilst watching the recent United v Spurs game, the camera cut unexpectedly to Darren Fletcher. It was a fairly typical Fletcher close-up. He was pushing his neck forward. His eyes were bulging. And he was screaming instructions at Rafael.
I thought back to the team sheet, and particularly the offensive players: Nani, Carrick, Park, Hernandez & Berbatov. An array of talent for sure. But vocal ? Galvanising ? Communicative ? Nope, none of them.
Watching wave after wave of subsequent attacks i kept my eye on Darren. He never stopped orchestrating. Pulling strings. Screaming. The commentators never mentioned it. And, typically with TV coverage, the camera’s often lost him. Fletcher was dominant in that game. I watched it again that evening, and the nonsense around Nani’s goal deflected any opportunity for anyone to speak positively of Darren’s influence.
Which leads me to my point.
Sometimes a player takes a game by the scruff of its (badly designed white Nike) collar, and influences every aspect without needing to technically do amazing things. Fergie has always had his generals on the pitch, and with the game becoming (hello Arsene) more technical than ever, I think the role of orchestrator is more important than ever.
One memory that will always stick with me, was from the United v Chelsea game at OT in mid January 2003. (Yep, THAT Forlan injury time winner). I arrived at OT mid morning (midday kick off) back in the days where season tickets were booklets and I could just roll up pre kick off and get a tout ticket for a reasonable price. The beauty of the tout tickets was that you entered a bit of a lottery for where your seat might be. I split with my mate (rarely got two tout tickets together) and found my seat. I was FRONT ROW of the North Stand, bang on the halfway line. I’d never been so close to the pitch at a home game.
Barely three minutes into the game and something was very apparent:
Roy Keane. He was terrifying.
Being that close to the pitch, I could pretty much hear every word. He was THAT loud. He continually tore Becks, Phil Neville and old Easter Island Head new ar$£holes. I remember looking at the guy beside me in open mouthed astonishment after one Keano tirade at Wes Brown. We ended up winning that day with a incredible late winner from Diego, cue pandemonium. Well, cue pandemonium from 70,000 people and 10 players. Because Roy screamed a bit at the crowd and was then first back to the halfway line shouting instructions as he went. Even in injury time.
I came away from that game blown to pieces. Partly because of Forlan’s strike obviously, but more because I’d had a “lightbulb moment”. That moment of illumination that made me knowingly grin when I heard analysts praising Keane’s influence on games of football. Something that also came from this was a general mistrust of any journalist’s/blogger’s/pundit’s views on a game of football they didnt actually attend. You simply cant always see or hear everything when you’re in the hands of a broadcast director.
Sure, Wayne and Rio shout and scream a lot, but they they don’t conduct the orchestra. They don’t carry through the game-plan. Ryan Giggs has learnt it, but whenever he or Fletcher are missing from a starting line-up i always feel a slight unease. I look around the Citeh and Gooners teams sometimes and see a lot of talent. But I don’t see the leaders, I don’t see the players who can pull strings as well as bark orders and intimidate. Show me a championship winning team that didn’t have its Souness, Vieira, Keane or Terry
Well i think its time to acknowledge one modest Scotsman’s influence on our recent success.
Stand up Darren Fletcher.
You’re the first name on my team-sheet.
And yes, you really had to be there.