The arrival of Darren Fletcher
Finally, after years of trial and error, Manchester United have found the long term successor for their fantastic captain Roy Keane – and it’s the man who nobody expected to succeed: Darren Fletcher.
United had to search long and hard to replace the Irishman and many were given the chance.
Firstly Liam Miller, the Irishman purchased from Celtic in 2004 never looked comfortable knowing his role was to step into a legends shoes, after just 9 appearances he was put out of his misery and sold to Sunderland – ironically, it was Roy Keane who bought him.
There was Quinton Fortune but the South African never looked up to scratch in a red shirt and Kleberson, a complete and utter failure – the worst signing in Ferguson’s 23 year reign in Manchester.
Alan Smith, part of the cleanout at Leeds when they went bust was a striker by trade but Fergie thought his battling skills might have been able to adapt to midfield. Unfortunately he was struck down with a sickening leg break but it’s certain he was not the man United were looking for.
John O’Shea, a product of United’s Academy was pushed into Midfield to play a holding role, while his versatility is a key asset he has always looked for comfortable on the right side of defence.
Paul Scholes was tried in a deeper role but it was never worked out, same with Michael Carrick who many fans thought was a waste of money for his £18.6 Million fee (with add-ons) as he was a natural passer, not the midfield screen that United so desperately needed.
Then there was Darren Fletcher, the pale twig many thought Ferguson just had a soft spot for as they both hailed from north of the border.
Fletcher started out as a right-sided midfielder but found his chances limited with a certain David Beckham who was replaced by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, he adapted to a central midfield role but his lack of skill on the ball indicated he wouldn’t cut the mustard at Old Trafford.
Every summer, the fans expected him to be on his way, bringing the club a few million in return for his fine football education but Ferguson never cashed in and to his credit, Fletcher stuck it out.
Then one day it all changed, literally in one match, the 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal which put United through to the Quarter Finals of the 2008 FA Cup.
Fletcher took the Gunners apart, two goals and a man-of-the-match display surprised many as he announced his arrival on the scene.
Not everything fell into place, he remained inconsistent and there were frequent complaints that he didn’t score enough goals but Ferguson put his faith in him and played him in the big matches as United went on to win the treble.
Last season was “more of the same” only with a dash more skill and a touch more fight. Fletcher was again saved for the big games and while United failed on the whole against the Big 4, without him they would have lost more games.
It was in the Champions League where Fletcher truly proved his worth.
He held the midfield together while Carrick and Scholes played long passes from deep; it was Fletcher who mopped up at the back, winning back possession with his constant haranguing of the opposition and his occasional Scholes-esque late runs into the box which began to return some handsome dividends.
Then another match against Arsenal, this time the Semi-Final of the Champions League. Fletcher was wrongly adjudged to have fouled Fabregas and the resultant red-card could not be overturned – he missed the Final and United lost.
Inside two years he’d gone from 5th choice in central midfield to the player United supporters felt they couldn’t do without. In the lead up to the Final against Barcelona, most United supporters didn’t feel the confidence they’d felt the year before and remarkably, this mostly stemmed from Fletcher’s absence.
The start to his 2009 season hadn’t been great, indeed he has received much criticism as a hack, a player sent out by Ferguson to kick United to victory but the Man Utd faithful have awoken to his talent and denied these claims, yesterday against Everton with one swing of his boot he not only embodied everything United stands for – attacking football provided by products of their academy – but he showed what class he has.
United’s left back Evra bombed down the wing, putting in a few tricks before crossing it deep into the box, a ball which Valencia headed back to the edge of the area where Fletcher was waiting, the ball bounced high but the Scot managed to get over it and control it to perfection, cracking the ball in the top corner with a shot which was not only reminiscent of Zidane, but every bit as good.
A strike that no keeper in the world could have saved and it was the highlight of Fletcher’s dominating man-of-the-match performance, 3-0 United and Fletcher proved once again just how valuable he is.