Football

Darren Fletcher Gets Nowhere Near Enough Credit For His Inspirational Resurgence

Darren Fletcher Gets Nowhere Near Enough Credit For His Inspirational Resurgence

At 33 years of age, Darren Fletcher was the best midfielder on a pitch that contained Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, and Joe Allen of course, in what was the Scottish veteran's 91st consecutive Premier League game.

Since leaving Manchester United in 2015 he hasn't missed a match and that would be an extremely impressive stat on its own were it not made absolutely remarkable by the fact that Fletcher essentially lost three years of his career due to ulcerative colitis, a chronic bowel disease that makes everyday life a struggle, let alone playing Premier League football.

His successful surgery and subsequent return was celebrated, but few would have expected him to return to the level he has, where he is arguably playing the best football of his career. Manchester United certainly didn't, or else they would have kept him around.

Fletcher's career at Old Trafford didn't get off to the smoothest of starts. I clearly remember the grumblings of many of the club's fans when Alex Ferguson introduced him to first-team action as a 19-year-old, a common theory being that because he was Scottish he was the teacher's pet, in some sort of act of patriotic nepotism.

It continued for a few years, mainly because Flecher was playing out wide, a position that didn't suit his skillset and reading of the game. When he moved into a central position, it quickly became clear what Fergie saw in him and he became hugely popular with the fans, known for being someone you could count on in the big games in particular.

His best season in a United shirt was the 08/09 campaign where many believed that the damage Messi and David Villa did in the Champions League final would have been more difficult had Fletcher not been incorrectly sent-off against Arsenal in the semi. It probably wouldn't have made a difference as that Barca side were one of the best ever, but it goes to show how highly he was regarded.

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It was around this time that he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, although he ignored it and did not make his struggles public until 2011 after his condition worsened. He lost a lot of weight and did not look like someone capable of dealing with the rigours of the Premier League, so surgery was the only option.

Having lost his place in the Man Utd team, he made sporadic returns to much adulation but never managed to get a proper run of games which would have been incredibly frustrating for someone who spent years being physically unable to play and then still had to spectate despite having made a recovery.

The decision was made to move on, and with West Bromwich Albion the destination Fletcher departed with a heavy heart and the fans cursing what might have been had he stayed fit, fearing that Fletcher may fade out of the picture at a smaller club.

But Tony Pulis had other ideas. He built his side around Fletcher, utilising his experience and game management to almost act as a second coach on the pitch and help the baggies go from a team tipped for relegation every year to a club that looks anchored comfortably in the upper-mid-table region.

Having been made captain immediately, it soon became apparent that being a player who was nailed on for 90 minutes every week was where Fletcher thrived, and he along with former United team-mate Jonny Evans personified West Brom's endearing steeliness and determination.

It was a surprise to see him leave the club in the summer, and the reaction in the West Midlands was such that Pulis' job was reported to be in doubt for allowing Fletcher to leave. Stoke offered him more money, as they knew he would fill a gap that they had been trying to plug for years.

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There was a lot of surprise in England when Steven N'Zonzi was awarded La Liga's player of the month award back in January, the Frenchman was underrated in his role for at Stoke where he offered protection to the back for but also a comfort on the ball that allowed for speed in transition. He took time to adjust in Spain but is now showing what a quality player he is, he even made Guilleme Balague's team of the season last year (for whatever that's worth), and few outside of those who follow Stoke were even aware of this issue Mark Hughes was having.

It may only be four games into the new season, but it looks as though he has finally solved it with Darren Fletcher. Himself and Joe Allen cover an incredible amount of ground, shield the three centre-backs, and get quick ball to the dangermen on the wings. Against United he was tremendous, so much so that even fans of the away side were enjoying his performance.

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He is one of the most consistent players in the entire league. You know what you are going to get from him every week, and even when you look at an opposition player you might expect him to struggle with, take Paul Pogba as an example, he tends to find a way to raise his game.

But do we hear enough about what a shining example of perseverance and determination he is?

He's loved by United fans, West Brom fans want him back like a devastated ex despite signing a replacement from PSG, and while everyone is pondering why Chelsea allowed Manchester United to sign Nemanja Matic, Stoke City fans are pissng themselves laughing that their missing piece of the puzzle arrived on a free transfer from a club of with similar ambitions.

But he is someone that should be respected throughout the league. Seeing Darren Fletcher in the opposition lineup won't strike the fans of any team with fear, yet you absolutely know he's not going to give you an easy day.

The man himself doesn't make a song and dance about it, he just gets on with it. He wouldn't want any extra attention or praise, he'd almost certainly be adverse to it, but he deserves it nonetheless.

A true professional, a model professional, handed a cruel misfortune but overcame the struggle and became better for it. Darren Fletcher is who I want to be when I grow up.

Mikey Traynor

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