24. DARREN FLETCHER
|Birthdate:||01 Feb 1984|
|Joined United:||03 Jul 2000|
|United Debut:||12 Mar 2003 v FC Basel (H)|
Darren Fletcher is a player for the big occasion. While other men might shirk from the responsibility presented to them in the heat of battle, the Scot thrives in such encounters.
This attitude has been displayed on many occasions but, unfortunately, his Champions League final jinx struck again in 2011 when he was still not 100 percent fit after battling against a chronic bowel condition. An unused substitute on the biggest club stage for the second time, he missed out on Rome all together in 2009 due to suspension after a ridiculously harsh sending off in the semi-final against Arsenal. With his indefatigable running, hassling, closing down and tackling, it’s little wonder he is so important to Sir Alex Ferguson’s plans when available for selection. However, in terms of recognition for his exertions and qualities, Fletcher’s United career has been a slow burner. It is only with age, and with an ever-growing list of outstanding performances, that he has received due credit. His life as a Red almost got off to fairytale start when in May 2000, Fletcher was set to be included in the squad for the league trip to Villa Park, but FA rules – and his schoolboy status – denied him the chance. He joined United officially as a trainee in July 2000, but injuries stymied his progress. He eventually made his debut against Basel in March 2003, but it was in the following season that Fletch made his mark, notching 35 appearances. By this stage, he was established as one of Scotland’s leading lights: he scored the solitary goal against Lithuania that earned a play-off for Euro 2004 and, later that season, aged 20, became Scotland’s youngest captain for 118 years. The 2004/05 campaign brought Fletcher’s first goal for United, in a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day. His most famous strike to date was against Chelsea in November 2005 when he headed the goal that ended the champions’ 40-game unbeaten run. Subsequent seasons saw him used intermittently, but the trend of selecting him for the biggest, most important games indicated the high regard in which Sir Alex holds his countryman. That faith was displayed when, in October 2008. Darren signed a four-year contract extension. He admitted that just a few months earlier he had contemplated life away from Old Trafford, only for Sir Alex to field him regularly in the early stages of the 2008/09 season. Fletcher struck up an energetic, dominant midfield partnership with Michael Carrick and began finding the net on a more regular basis, validating the judgement of his manager and finally yielding recognition from peers and supporters alike. The 2009/10 campaign was arguably the Scot’s best in a red shirt. He proved time and again he can handle the pressure against the cream of England and Europe, while inspiring those around him. His all-action display in the dramatic 4-3 Manchester derby victory in September 2009 yielded two fine headed goals and he netted one of the strikes of the season against Everton two months later. As well as popping up on the scoresheet, Fletcher, who found himself playing in defence during a torrid spell of injuries, turned creator on numerous occasions with some pinpoint deliveries into the area which were gladly snapped up by Rooney and co. One of United’s most consistent performers throughout, he oozed class and energy when the Reds needed it most and carried this form into 2010/2011, scoring in early fixtures against Newcastle and Everton. Injury was to blight his campaign and there were serious worries as he lost weight following the virus that kept him out from mid-March. Easing his way back via the reserves, he made a late bid for inclusion in the end-of-season games but was clearly not back to his best in time. Nonetheless, he was afforded a start against Blackpool when the Reds were crowned champions and made the matchday squad for the Wembley defeat to Barcelona. Fletcher battled back after missing the pre-season tour of the United States and featured for both club and country, scoring in defeat against Manchester City and also in the 2-2 draw with Benfica. However, the club issued a statement in December revealing that the midfielder has been suffering from ulcerative colitis and needs an extended break from football. Everybody at United wishes Darren well and hopes to see him back in the red shirt again as soon as possible.