The Scottish midfielder was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s finest – he arrived at Old Trafford in 1995 as an 11-year-old boy and made his way through the youth and reserve ranks to become an integral part of Ferguson’s first-team machine by the time he was 19 years old.
A traditional box-to-box midfielder, Fletcher’s class and commitment has seen him become one of Ferguson’s most utilized and trusted members of the team. His determination to give one hundred per cent for the manager and the team made him an instant hit with the fans.
Although he’s no flair player and certainly not a ‘star’ that steals the show at Old Trafford, his qualities, whilst understated, valuable – his work-rate, his concentration, his determination and his bravery make him one of the most solid and reliable midfielders in England.
Now 29, upon his return, he’ll find himself one of the more experienced veterans in the current squad along with a new manager at the helm. His elder compatriot Moyes will be glad to see him return to training I’m sure – Ferguson’s choice of men to replace him will certainly have a requirement for a player of Fletcher’s caliber.
The problem will, of course, be the fact that he’s hardly been able to participate at all in the last two campaigns – his chronic bowel condition and subsequent surgery have seen him sidelined for the best part of two years.
He featured in just four league games this term and eight last term – he did manage, however remarkably, to score a goal in both seasons. He came on to rapturous applause – a hero’s welcome – at Old Trafford against Newcastle back in December as a 90th minute substitute. The fans have not forgotten him.
The question is will he remain a staple of United’s midfield next term? Firstly, he has to recover properly and then slowly work his way back to match fitness and then it’ll likely take time to get back into the swing of playing at the same intensity in Premier League.
Then, should he gradually manage to bring himself back to his best, he may have competition to contend with for his place – Michael Carrick has been nothing short of exquisite this term. The 31-year-old has had undoubtedly the finest season on his whole career.
Summer signing Shinji Kagawa will likely play a much more prominent role in United’s midfield next term – his injury this term and his need to adapt to the Premier League somewhat dulled his quality in his debut season but he is one of the most technically gifted playmakers in existence, mark my words.
Anderson will likely be sold which is a positive thing for Fletcher but the emergence of Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones, to a lesser extent, Nick Powell will mean there is plenty of competition for places – and that’s before anyone’s even been signed.
Darren Fletcher will of course be warmly welcomed back to Old Trafford by the new boss, the team and the fans but he will still have a long road ahead to re-establish himself as the first name on the team sheet, as he used to be.
image: © Andrea Sartorati