When it comes to conversations of the merits of true great Manchester United midfielders, chances are Darren Fletcher’s name is hardly likely to feature. But when courage, blood, sweat, niggling tackles and in your face ferocity were required, few came close to matching the boy born in Dalkeith, Midlothian.
The Definitive Big-Game-Player
Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to always employ Fletcher in United’s biggest matches (Champions League final 2008 apart) was more than often justified as the Scottish midfielder would hustle, antagonise and ultimately wear down maybe more skilful opponents with his unrivalled effort. None more than Arsenal’s don’t-touch-me-I’m-playing footballers, who would find themselves hunted down across the field by Fletcher’s lanky stride and hassling manner, pleading to the referee for protection after repeatedly being bumped unceremoniously on their backsides.
The much over-used “all-action” label could well have been invented for the underrated United man, who after coming through the ranks at Old Trafford won five Premier League titles, one FA cup, two League Cups, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup. But maybe Fletcher’s biggest claim to fame has been driving Arsene Wenger to his best Basil Fawlty impression on the touchline as he tore into his precious Gunners. Fletch was also ably abetted over the years by the likes of Paul Scholes and a seemingly demonic, at times possessed Phil Neville – a sight in itself.
The criminal sending off at the Emirates in 2009 during the second-leg of a Champions League semi-final that ultimately denied him a place in the team that faced Barcelona in Rome, was ultimately the darkest moment of Fletcher’s United career. Who knows whether on that fateful night in the Eternal City, when Barca’s mesmerising midfield toyed with their Mancunian opponents, if Fletcher’s tenacity could have disrupted the Catalan’s rhythm and changed the course of history?
It might be pointless to ponder such what ifs, but such was the effectiveness of the Scottish international at that time, he could well have ensured United put up more of a fight than the abject surrender witnessed on that forlorn evening under the Italian stars.
Fletcher’s Biggest Battle
Then came Fletcher’s biggest and most dangerous opponent. One that would require every last ounce of Darren Fletcher’s desire and will to overcome the odds. In 2011 Fletcher went public in his battle to overcome ulcerative colitis. From then on supporters became increasingly alarmed at Fletcher’s increasingly thin appearance. It became all just a matter of time.
Attempted comebacks have been predictably brave and well-intentioned. But the once dynamic, dogged qualities that Fletcher displayed in past glories had gone forever. His was never the cool and calculating, Scholeseque style; the incisive pass or deft flick. With too much time to think on the ball, Fletcher was, for me, always found wanting at the highest level.
Goodbye and Good Luck, Fletch
And so now we say goodbye. A great servant in the Manchester United shirt, Darren Fletcher will always be fondly remembered. Go with our blessings Darren. Thanks for the memories; anyone who reduced Arsene Wenger to a gibbering, spitting wreck has done fine by me. A true red pest and United forever.