Darren Fletcher has never been a player I have rated too highly. Had he not been billed as “the next David Beckham” then maybe we could have been more accepting from the young Scot. Had his place in the team always depended upon the injuries of others, then I’m sure he would have been welcomed more enthusiastically by our following.
However, no doubt because of his nationality, Sir Alex Ferguson was insistent on making Fletcher a first XI player. Beteen 2004-2006, Fletcher was a regular starter for the club, but was unable to keep a consistently high level of performance. With no threat to his starting place in the team, Fletcher didn’t seem to play with the urgency and commitment and got increasingly worse.
Despite scoring a crucial goal against Chelsea in the first half of the 2005-2006 season, by the close of the season he’d lost his place in the centre of midfield to Ryan Giggs and John O’Shea, who proved surprisingly to be a good pairing.
Michael Carrick joined in the summer following that season, signalling the end of Fletcher’s United career, in the starting XI at least. Carrick slotted in well alongside Paul Scholes reducing Fletcher to mainly substitute appearances. However, this lead to an improvement in Fletcher’s game, him taking the rarer appearances as a chance to prove himself, and this was particularly evident in United’s 7-1 victory over Roma.
Earlier this month, I questioned whether we had been too quick to criticise Fletcher following a string of great performances, with the Scot showing he could be trusted to perform in the big games. The highlight of his season so far was obviously the part he played in our 4-0 victory over Arsenal. Not only for the two goals, but for the solid performance he put in all over the park. He bought hard for every ball, running the length of the pitch, and never pulling out of any battle.
Whilst still competing with Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves and Anderson for a place in the team, Fletcher has shown himself as a more reliable option. With plenty of big games on their way, Fletcher’s fighting spirit is something that could add that little bit extra to our team.
However, the friendly Fletcher’s featured in midweek for Scotland has likely cost him the rest of his season. There is no time to rehabilitate injured players with one or two games remaining, which would likely be the earliest team Fletcher would be fit enough to play, meaning it is unlikely he will play any further part in United’s season. Sir Alex Ferguson, who has voiced his displeasure over International friendlies on a number of occasions, has again spoken of his frustration.
“Darren should have played only 45 minutes, 60 minutes at most. But instead he was heading for a full game before he got injured,” he said. “He had gone up to Scotland with a bad chest cold, which caused him to miss our last game (the 3-0 victory against Liverpool on Sunday). It is a bad blow losing Darren and again shows the futility of playing friendly games. It is crazy. Supporters will stop going anyway, given the kind of money they are paying and the kind of travelling they have to do. Every manager knows deep down these games are a waste of time.”
United certainly have cover for Fletcher’s position, so that shouldn’t be a worry, but do we have many players with the mentality of Fletcher? Not doubting that we have plenty of people up for the fight, but do we have many players who capable of raising their game in the way Fletcher is? I imagine Arsenal are crying out for a player with the commitment of Fletcher at the moment, as it’s his ability to turn up in the big games, when the pressure is on, that we could really miss.
Will Fletcher’s injury be costly to United?