The absence of Darren Fletcher was cited by many as the reason United had lost the game before a ball had even been kicked, how had he been there, then Xavi and Iniesta wouldn’t have been allowed the freedom to totally dominate the midfield.
Too dejected to even contemplate the ‘what if’s I ignored all the conjecture and carried on with the serious business of sulking. Although I’ve never really bought into the idea that Fletcher could have made all that much of a difference against such a rampant Barcelona side, the fact his suspension was even considered a reason for United’s loss shows just how important he was to the side.
Fletcher had gone from Darron Gibson to Roy Keane in the United fan popularity stakes in the space of only a few months.
I remember the Porto quarter final at Old Trafford when Fletcher hadn’t played that well, although to be fair neither had many of his team mates.
It seemed from that game onwards Fletcher couldn’t put a foot wrong, dominating the middle of the park, not in a Paul Scholes type way but in a barnstorming tough tackling all action dare I say Keano/Robbo- esque style.
The CL game at the Emirates against Arsenal was a case in point when Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal had all but pinned their hopes of qualifying to the final on, was placed firmly in Fletcher’s back-pocket.
Let’s not forget the final game of the season again against Arsenal where Fletcher gave a superb defensive midfield performance to ensure United got the 0-0 draw that was enough to give us 18 titles.
The following season ,Fletcher seemed to kick on playing his now customary midfield terrier role, remarkably adept at getting stuck in a snuffing out other teams attacks as well as bagging an impressive brace in the ‘greatest Manchester derby of all time.
Although it wasn’t a consistently good season- there were the odd games where Fletcher’s passing deserted him on the whole he was one of United’s better players and more than worthy of his place in the team.
Last season, before it kicked off I wrote an article entitled ‘ten things United need to do to regain ‘our trophy’.
One of my points was on Fletcher and how we needed him to be at the top of his game if we were to prevail in the Premier League.
To be perfectly frank, I was wrong as United regained the title with Fletcher having his worst season since the dark days circa 2004-2006 when the term Fergie’s lovechild’ was used more often than anything ‘super.’
Other than Tottenham at home, I genuinely don’t think Fletcher had an outstanding game all season. Don’t get me wrong there were times when he played well but he came nowhere near the heights he’d reached the previous two seasons. In fact he was no longer guaranteed a starting place in the big games, something that would have been unthinkable at one point.
Then came the mystery virus. Whatever illness afflicted Fletcher it robbed him of a full two months of the season and meant he missed a third successive Champions League final.
Since his return Fletcher’s looked okay, but there’s still a big doubt as to whether we’ll see the player who turned his unpopularity around in 2009.
With United chasing the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric and Alexis Sanchez, plus Ashley Young seemingly destined to sign, the onus seems to be on acquiring an attacking midfielder. Phil Jones can play as a defensive midfielder but his best position is arguably at centre back and regardless of where he plays best, at only 19 years of age he’s one for the future.
Wayne Rooney showed last season that he can play as an attacking midfielder which means a partnership with someone like Fletcher who can do the defensive side of things would be ideal.
We’ve seen Michael Carrick operate as a DM but for me he is simply a central midfielder being forced to play as a DM. It’s often a waste of Carrick’s talents and brings him unwarranted criticism for not getting stuck in enough- which has never been what his games about anyway.
Fletcher does get stuck in though, better than anyone on his day and whether its Rooney, Sneijder or Giggs just in front of him, could be the ideal man to boss United’s midfield.
Roy Keane wrote in his autobiography how when he arrived at Nottingham Forest, Brian Clough told him: “your job’s to get hold of the ball and give it to a red shirt.”
That’s exactly what United need next season, with the likes of Rooney, Nani, Valencia, Giggs, Young- probably- we’ve got enough players who can create chances and in Chicharito we’ve got someone to put them away. What United need is someone to ‘get hold of the ball and give it to a red shirt.’
That used to be what Fletcher did best and if he can return next season as the barnstorming player of old, then Ferguson may just have one of his most complete sides ever.