So there’s not an awful lot of news going around at the moment, so I thought I’d take this time to reflect on some of our players, starting with Darren Fletcher.
He has been one of the biggest success stories for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United over recent years, with the manager always showing faith in him no matter what the fans or captain had to say.
Starting with early 2003 and going up until this season, RoM will look at some of the notable comments made by and about Fletcher.
March 13th 2003: “Darren has a chance,” said Ferguson of the 19-year-old. “He has had a difficult start to his career at the club, suffering a broken foot which fractured again when he came back too soon, then missing 10 weeks with an ankle injury. He was also physically very immature. He is still skin and bone really but he has very good ability and there is a lot of common sense about his play.”
August 22nd 2003: “My career so far hasn’t gone so well in regard to injuries but I’ve had a great summer and hopefully I can look forward to this season,” said Fletcher, who made his Scotland début in the midweek friendly against Norway. “With Becks leaving United, the manager has told me there may be an opening on the right and he has been keen to try me out. I prefer playing in the centre of midfield but I just want whatever opportunity I can get. Some feel the signing of a player like Cristiano Ronaldo might be disheartening for me but it isn’t at all because he’ll be brilliant for United. That’s what happens at big clubs. Players come and go.”
October 11th 2003: “My first ever game at Hampden and my first ever senior goal – and it puts us into the European Championship play-offs,” said Fletcher. “It’s a dream come true. There’s not enough money in the world to compare with the feeling that goal gave me. I saw it coming at me and all I could think was ‘Keep it down, keep it down’. I was thrilled when it went in – I just ran, I don’t know where. I just remember seeing the fans and being blown away by the joy on their faces. My family were here to see the game and that makes me even more proud.”
November 6th 2003: “I was spotted by United when I was playing for Celtic Boys Club when I was about 12 and I started coming down during school holidays,” said Fletcher. “I kept doing that until I signed for the club on my 16th birthday. The manager had a big involvement in me coming here. Every time I came down he went out of his way to make sure my family and I felt welcome. That was brilliant. I grew up going to Celtic with my uncle who had a box at Celtic Park. He bought me a season ticket one year and I went along for two or three seasons. I had the opportunity to join Celtic but Rangers had a good youth set-up and track record of bringing through players, so I thought that was the best place to be. At Celtic that wasn’t happening.”
April 30th 2004: “I can do without any more comparisons to David Beckham,” Fletcher said. “Every time someone mentions me they seem to want to throw in his name too. If it’s Dalglish you’re talking about then I don’t mind but don’t compare me to David Beckham. Having said that, to be compared to Dalglish is a bit strange too. I’m nowhere near his level yet but, hopefully, one day, the fans will put me in that sort of class.”
May 27th 2004: ”Captaining Scotland is a boyhood dream and I am very proud and honoured,” Fletcher said. ”I was delighted and surprised when Berti told me and I can’t wait to lead the team out against Estonia.”
August 10th 2004: “My aim in the coming season is to play more games than I did last term for United and hopefully in the centre of midfield,” Fletcher said.
October 21st 2004: “It is hard when you are not playing but, at a club like Manchester United, you just have to be patient,” admitted Fletcher. “When you have Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo at your club, I guess it’s obvious I will be in the background in terms of young players, but I am confident enough in my own ability to know I can do a good job here. Maybe I don’t go around showing off all the skills and scoring all the goals but I feel there is another side to my game. But I have to respect the manager’s team selection at United, train hard and wait for my chance. I am fully behind the squad but it is a long, hard season and when I get an opportunity, it is up to me to take it.”
November 9th 2004: “Darren has not played as many games as he would have liked this season but I have no worries about him whatsoever,” said Ferguson. “He’s been through a period that all young players go through in their development. He had a great end to last season but in his second year is finding it a bit more difficult. Looking at Darren’s history at the club, it seems to me that he always appears to come on in the second half of the season. He is still only 20 and the future is very strong for him.”
April 14th 2005: “The manager and the captain are the two most important people you look to,” said Fletcher. “You have to sit up and take notice of what they say. Roy Keane has been vocal in the Press. We all knew about that as he is vocal in the dressing room before going to the Press. It does spur us on. If he can get an extra bit out of us for Sunday, which he is obviously trying to do, that’s great. You learn from players like Roy Keane and how they deal with situations and how they prepare for games. That’s what I have done since coming into the first-team squad.”
April 19th 2005: Is Fergie right about Fletcher?
May 4th 2005: “There are a lot of younger players in the squad now,” Fletcher said. “There is myself, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo to mention a few. We are definitely building towards the future and all good things have to come to an end. The manager is rebuilding like he has rebuilt here before.”
May 22nd 2005: “When he played his first game for the reserves, I played with him,” said Solskjaer of Fletcher. “He was 16 and it was against Everton. It’s great to see him come through and be as good as he now is. He’s the most consistent of the younger players. He doesn’t capture the headlines, he’s got absolutely no personal agendas, he’s not, like, ‘Look, here I am!’ when he’s on the pitch. He just goes out and performs for the team.”
September 10th 2005: “I don’t envy them at all,” Fletcher said of Rooney and Ronaldo. “That’s not my scene at all and, to be fair, I don’t think it’s theirs either – especially not Wayne, but he’s stuck with it. They’re world stars, so it’s nice when the manager mentions me in the same breath, but I’m a different player: maybe not as flash, but hopefully I do just as important a job for the team. That’s the way I like it. Playing for United is all that matters to me. As long as the manager is happy, that’s all that matters.”
October 6th 2005: “Roy is the best trainer at Manchester United,” said Fletcher. “You can’t get near him, it’s frightening. He’s 34, but there’s been talk about him playing on for a couple more years and I don’t see that being a problem. I’d like to see him do that at United. I know there are lots of rumours, but I’d just like to leave it by saying he is a great player and I’d rather he was still at Old Trafford for a few more years. His influence on me has been with little words here and there and me just watching him from close quarters. I’ve looked at what he does in certain situations – like at half time and so on. That is how I have learned from him.”
November 1st 2005: “It seems to be in this club you have to play badly to be rewarded,” said Keane. “Maybe that is what I should do when I come back – play badly. I wasn’t surprised by the result; I had been expecting one like this. The players have been asked questions and they are just not coming up with the answers. I am sick of having to say it and they are sick of listening to me. They have let down the club, the manager, and the fans. I can’t understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher.”
November 6th 2005: Fletcher hands United hope
November 13th 2005: “I’m feeling fit, that is the main thing, and obviously I’m being asked to do different roles – sometimes out wide, sometimes in the centre but I’m just happy to play wherever the manager and club want and if I’m starting I’m obviously pleased,” Fletcher said. “I’ve been through much more difficult periods, everybody knows what happened, we know at Manchester United and that’s the way it will stay. I’ve been injured for a year and a half and have been through a lot worse than that and was just looking forward to the Chelsea game. I’ve got a great manager behind me and a great captain who supports me.”
May 11th 2006: “It was disappointing to miss out on the Carling Cup final. I’m not going to tell a lie and say I was happy because I didn’t feel part of the squad,” Fletcher said. “But I have experienced playing in two FA Cup finals ahead of people like Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville. The manager picks the team on form at Manchester United and the players on form will play – the manager does speak to you and he let me know that I was a big part of the club. Ruud van Nistelrooy has been dropped so has Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s life at United and you should be up for the challenge. I feel as if sometimes the manager has tested me. Missing out on the final has made me even more determined to prove him wrong.”
April 12th 2007: “Fletch was like a man on a mission, there’s no doubt about it,” said Alex McLeish. “Darren went through a hard time from the United fans and I hate all that negative stuff. Yet surely those detractors watched him against Roma and thought again about the wisdom of their words.”
April 16th 2007: “Look at Darren Fletcher. He was magnificent against Roma in central midfield and then he has been asked to play at right-back and looked as though he has been there all his life,” said Rio Ferdinand. “He is a fantastic all-round footballer, who is now starting to get the credit his footballing talent deserves.”
November 26th 2007: “Obviously, you want to play in every game,” Fletcher said. “But there are some great midfielders at this club. The manager has a lot of choice and you can’t really take someone out of the team when they have been in good form. I just have to be patient. It is a long season, so I need to keep myself fit and take every chance I can to remind people I am good enough and capable enough to play at this level.”
January 16th 2008: “I am still happy playing for Manchester United and I am not thinking of going elsewhere,” said Fletcher. “I never heard anything about Birmingham being interested, I just know I want to be here for a long time. My only focus is on being ready when the manager needs me and being able to perform for the club when asked.”
April 25th 2008: “I was on the bench that day – it was horrible,” said Fletcher of the 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge in 2006. “They beat us quite convincingly. It was a disappointing day. Chelsea were pretty much assured of winning the league but we wanted to go there and say ‘This is what we can do’. We got well beaten. But I like to think hopefully that gave us the determination to go on and win it the year after.”
May 21st 2008: “It’s a squad game,” Fletcher said. “Nobody likes not playing – and I definitely don’t – but I accept it. That’s down to a few different factors and the form of the team. There’s a lot of competition among the players. It’s a Champions League final and I’m training hard to show the manager I’m worthy of a start or to be involved in some way. You saw that in the final in 1999 – it was the subs who made an impact when they came on. There is such a great team spirit. Whoever is selected in the starting 11, the rest of the lads will get fully behind them. We all want to achieve success for Manchester United and no matter who scores the winning goal we will all be delighted.”
July 17th 2008: “The speculation does not get on my nerves,” said Fletcher. “At this time of year, people make news out of nothing. You learn to deal with that here. The most important thing is to remain focused on Manchester United unless anyone tells you otherwise that is what you do.”
August 6th 2008: “There is competition for places, which drives you on, but until you are at the stage when you are not needed, then you have to move on,” said Fletcher. “I’ve not felt like that, but who knows what the future holds or when your time is up at United. The manager decides that or if you feel you are not helping the team or playing enough games and then it is time to go. But until that time comes I’m going to work hard and take every disappointment and use it as a fuel to get into the team.”
October 5th 2008: “It is a great honour to sign a new contract,” said Fletcher. “This is a fantastic club, the best in the world, and there is no place I would rather be. I know I did not start as many games as I would have liked last season but the manager thinks highly of me and I will keeping pushing for a run in the team. I am really enjoying myself at the moment.”
October 29th 2008: “Fletcher signing a new contract has probably been the relief of the season for us because there were a lot of clubs trying to buy him,” said Ferguson. “He had just one year left on his deal and he wanted more football than he got last season. I said to him ‘Look you were brought up at this club, you’ve got to recognise we played you in all the big games last season until you got injured in February’. Darren played in all the big games and I think that convinced him to stay. He’s developing and improving his game and taking it to a new level. I could easily have considered letting him go. We have so many central midfielders with Hargreaves, Carrick, Scholes and Anderson but Darren’s a United player and in big games he’s outstanding. He does a great job for us.”
February 5th 2009: “It was a difficult summer,” Fletcher said. “I had that ambition first and foremost but at the same time, I didn’t want to tie myself into a long contract if I was only going to be playing for 10 games a season. I didn’t want to see that as my future. I am not a youngster anymore. That is all right when you are 18 or 19. It’s okay picking up games then and getting experience but at my age now I really needed to be playing the majority of games. People might say you are silly and that if United are offering you a contract why are you thinking about going. People were telling me I’d be stupid to go, but I am a footballer and I want to play. So I had a decision that was right for me and my family. I didn’t want to be going home to my girlfriend in a bad mood because I hadn’t been playing. You have to sit down and think about your future sometimes. Although it’s great to be at United and winning things you also want to feel as though you have done something and played a big part in achieving that success. You don’t want to just go along for the ride and scraping enough games together to get a medal. But it is hard to let go at United. The manager and me spoke about it. I only had a year left on my contract so I had a big decision to make. The boss assured me I was needed and I was a vital asset and there were different qualities I could bring to the midfield. Of course there wasn’t a guarantee that I would definitely play more matches. He cannot guarantee you that, but I just thought I’d give it another go. I believe I can do it and that is my attitude. It was a good decision.”
May 6th 2009: “It is a massive game to miss out on. I think over the last two seasons he has been brilliant for us and if anyone deserves to be there and play it is him,” said Wayne Rooney of Fletcher after he was wrongly sent off in the Champions League semi-final against Arsenal.
September 5th 2009: “I’d play honestly every time I play,” said Fletcher. “Sometimes a keeper can obstruct you and you stumble and fall and there is a difference between that and diving. That’s where there is not a clear, defined line about how the referee perceives it. But if he doesn’t touch me, I’m not going down. That’s just the way it is.”
November 12th 2009: “This is a level that I’ve been striving to reach,” Fletcher said. “The way I am playing now, I’m the player I’ve always wanted to show people I could be. I’m not saying I’ve worked harder than anyone else, I’ve just tried to make sure I improve my game and things have really paid off. I’m enjoying everything at the moment because the team is successful. The most important thing for me this season has been to kick on and not sit back and take my place for granted. At United you’re proving your worth every game, there’s always someone who wants to take your shirt. That drives you on. I want to keep improving as a player, as I feel I have always done in every season I’ve been here.”
November 24th 2009: “I don’t want to sound big-headed but I’ve never come up against anyone who has torn me to shreds,” said Fletcher. “The only time that’s happened has been in training against Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. I watch how good Lampard, Fabregas and Gerrard are but when we play them I think ‘Right, I’m going to see how good you really are!’ I’m going to get against you and see how you like it. And when you’ve not got the ball I’m still going to get about you and see how you like it. I’m going to ask you ‘Do you fancy it? Do you like getting kicked? Do you like the fact I am going to be at you for the whole 90 minutes?’ As soon as you get the ball I am going to be in your face. You are not going to like it one bit. Are you ready for that because that’s what’s going to happen.”
December 13th 2009: “When I got sent-off against Arsenal, I had my little sisters and mum crying on the phone,” said Fletcher. “They were not at the game but I called them straight after. I saw the missed calls on my phone. Mum and dad and my three little sisters – they were distraught. They are 10, 16 and a year younger than me. I had to put a brave face on it and promised that I would drag the lads to another Champions League final. I said, ‘what’s meant to be will be’, and then I decided to concentrate on winning the league with United. I had to take it on the chin and not let it affect me.”
January 14th 2010: “Everyone wants to shoot you down when you are successful and you need to have the character to take that on board and fight back,” Fletcher said. “That is the challenge. You learn from it and it is what being part of this club is all about. You get used to and respond to it. When you are young and naive it can affect you. But I had very experienced players around me when I first broke through who pointed out the reality of it. The older ones have passed it down. The likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville told me not to worry about it because they’d experienced it and you get through it.”
February 23rd 2010: “I was still having doubts because I was in a fairly strong position with only a year left to run on my contract,” said Fletcher. “But the manager came to me. The contract talk was put to one side and our discussion was mainly about playing time. He said there had been offers but he didn’t want me to go. Deep down I just wanted to show what I was capable of. That is what drove me on and what I want to keep maintaining now because I want to be here for the rest of my career and leave some sort of mark on the club.”