For the last three or four years, he’s been our midfield linchpin and one of our most consistent performers. He’s been one of our most important players, and when his name is missing from the starting line up – a sense of concern emits loud and clear from the majority of United supporters.
A heart on sleeve, run through brick walls kind of a player, Darren Fletcher gets in opponents faces. He never says die, and as well as knowing how to play a bit, he oozes the passion that us reds demand when a player puts on a United shirt. He shows the sort of commitment that legendary midfielders such as Bryan Robson and Roy Keane used to deliver for us week in, week out.
Yet despite the plaudits and the recognition he’s received over the past few years, Darren Fletcher is still regarded by some as a poor passenger in a successful Manchester United side. Some comments about him still verge of the ridiculous, with a recent posting on one forum labelling him “The worst player to ever wear the shirt”.
For me, it beggars belief that Fletcher still has to win people over.
First impressions do last I suppose, and I remember in 2003 when he first came on to the scene. He made his debut against Basel in the Champions League, at a time when David Beckham had turned his attentions firmly to his book and his move to Madrid, and towards a time where United had the best midfield unit in Europe, had done for a good number of years, and was coming to the end of it’s reign.
As Beckham left, Fletcher was brought in to the right hand side of this midfield, and the fans expected a ready made replacement for Goldenballs.
However Fletcher throughout his reserve and youth career was never a right midfielder. Trying to force your way in to the starting line up for the champions must be a task in itself, but to be played out of position too – you’re not going to set the world on fire. I firmly believe that, in those early days when Fletcher was inconsistent, him doing his utmost to adapt to the right midfield position set him up for a hard couple of years.
And people forget that, despite the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, he was played out there for a massive chunk of his early United career.
I know that not everyone is perfect, and even the great Sir Alex has his flaws. For me, one of them which pops up from time to time is the way he blends some of the younger players in to the team. The Flecther example is one. Wellbeck as a left winger…Macheda up top on his own are two recent examples where I think he puts players too far in to the deep end when they’re trying to gain first team experience.
All the fans who criticise Darren Fletcher nowadays are, I’m pretty sure, clouded in their judgement by their first impressions. He played 34 games out there in the 2003/2004 season, and no-one ever saw the Darren-Fletcher-central-midfielder sort of performances that we know today.
His confidence must have suffered as a result of this too, and he was intermitently used for the next couple of years. Alan Smith and John O’Shea used to get in ahead of him in midfield – something you couldn’t imagine now! Smith’s unfortunate injury at Anfield in 2006 meant that Fletcher got a good run of games in his rightful position, and how the Scotsman blossomed as a result.
An extended run at centre midfield saw him turn from a guy who was pondering life for him away from Old Trafford for a time (as were the fans) in to a true United midfield player. Someone we needed. Someone we counted on. Someone who set the standard of commitment for the other 9 outfield players on the pitch.
I often wonder what would have happened in Rome in 2009 had Fletcher been there to boss our midfield. I’m sure that the “The worst player to ever wear the shirt” would have made some sort of difference to our lacklustre performance that stopped us from retaining the Champions League trophy in that game. And let’s not forget he missed that match from charging back against Arsenal to make a fantastic goal saving tackle in the semi final of that competition, which the referee penalised him for by incorrectly brandishing a red card.
Typical Fletcher. Never say die.
At least the vast majority of fans can appreciate that Darren Fletcher has grown in his time at United, and I’m delighted that he’s consistently getting the rave reviews that he’s earned nowadays.
And long may it continue.