Good things come to those who wait. Darren Fletcher’s return to first-team football in the English top flight could not have come at a better time, a pivotal moment in his career and could well be the turning point this season. Having diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in December 2011, Fletcher had to take an extended break from football to carry on with his recovery process. He made a short comeback in 2012, played his last game on the boxing day until he returned to feature in the first team on Sunday the 15th, as a substitute in the 0-3 away win over Aston Villa. His return would have brought a smile even in the faces of the staunchest of Liverpool and Manchester City supporters. Such is this famous Manchester United academy graduate’s character and will to contribute to the team that stuck with him through the thick and thin.
His best seasons were certainly 2009/10 and 2010/11 when he started a good amount of games and played a part in most of the important games in those campaigns. Though he isn’t a player who is gifted with the vision of Paul Scholes, he could keep things ticking in the midfield, importantly control the tempo as good as anybody at Manchester United at the moment. In 09/10 season, Darren had started 29 games in the premier league in the heart of United’s midfield and came off the bench once. Notably, 10 of those games ended as clean sheets in favor of United. Despite the fact that Manchester United had a more energetic Vidic and Rio back then, it was Fletcher whose dispossessing attributes in the middle that quietly contributed to that statistic. He made a total of 82 tackles that season, the most by a midfielder in Manchester United that season and enjoyed a success rate of about 81%. He made an amazing 57 interceptions in the midfield that is almost 2 every game he’s featured. Though Manchester United lost the league to Chelsea by 1 point, it was a season to remember for the Scotsman.
In the following season, Darren Fletcher played a crucial role in United’s record 19th title win (Were you watching Merseyside?) scoring a couple in the 4-3 win over neighbors Manchester City. He started 24 games that season and came off the bench twice. But the numbers faded a bit. He was less adventurous as his growing injuries and illnesses were not helping him one bit. He made a total of 29 tackles that season with a success rate of 93%. He made 37 interceptions overall. Some 20 fewer than the previous. He contributed in terms of goals and assists though. 2 crucial goals that season and 6 assists from a central midfielder in open play is not bad at all considering how our midfielders perform today.
Darren Fletcher was happy with his return to the top flight and so was his boss David Moyes. David Moyes in the post match interview,
“When I took the job I didn’t know how he was going to be and to recover from the illness he has is an incredible credit to him. The time and hours he has gone through when he has had to work on his own has been massive. He has also been in hospital for operations. So today was a big message to people to keep believing that you can get yourself right. What I don’t want to do is put pressure on and say this is Darren Fletcher back. You just never know.”
Fletcher himself was happy to be back in the mix. He said,
“I always believed I would come back. Other people around me were trying to make me think otherwise but I stayed strong and believed I would get back. Playing a game and getting an ovation like that makes it all worthwhile.”
Darren has been a Manchester United lad through and through. Having won 5 premier league medals already, it is imperative to have someone with his experience, someone who has seen it all in the dressing room at this moment. Watching him complete a return to the top flight against Aston Villa certainly is a massive boost to him and to the dormant mental state of the team that is struggling at the moment. This well serves as a testament to the quaint old saying, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’. But hey, lets not pile up the pressure on him. Welcome back, Darren!