October 10, 2008 Est 1999 Scotland's award-winning independent newspaper
Scotland hopes
Despite the arrival of £69m worth of new midfield talent, Darren Fletcher remains upbeat about life at Old Trafford, and has no plans to return north of the border … yet

DARREN FLETCHER was on a 75-minute flight on Monday which flew through a narrow opening in a cliff-face, into a gully and on to land at the tiny assortment of buildings which make Vagar one of the most distinctive airports in Europe.

Some of the most beautiful and unspoiled natural landscapes on the planet then unfolded before his eyes on a winding, 50-minute coach drive through the Faroe Islands. The journey ended at a hillside hotel with a breathtaking view of picturesque Torshavn in front of the silvery North Atlantic.

When Fletcher got to his room and looked out of the window something dawned on him for the first time that day: hold on a minute, he had been to the Faroes before.

A star who travels with his head in the clouds, or a 23-year-old who has already packed so much into his young life that he can be forgiven for forgetting a previous visit even to somewhere as unique as the Faroes?

Only when his memory was jogged last week did he recall the Faroes youth international tournament he appeared in as a 16-year-old, in which he broke his foot in the very act of scoring a goal for Scotland. Manchester United had allowed him to play on the basis that he appeared only for an hour. Fletcher put the ball in the net, and suffered his injury, after 60 minutes.

Torshavn does not have a lot to offer a young Manchester United star, even one as sensible and domesticated as Fletcher, who is the father of 10-week-old twin boys Jack and Tyler.

No-one would have blamed him for finding something attractive about its isolation, though. It gave him an escape from the danger of seeing British newspapers or Sky Sports News. Since his club season ended with defeat in the FA Cup final, Fletcher has read and seen enough about United splashing out on new midfielders to turn him off sports coverage for good.

Owen Hargreaves for £17 million. Nani and Anderson for £16m in a double raid on Portuguese clubs which could eventually cost United £34m. And the three of them just a year after £18m was lavished on Michael Carrick.

That's £69m worth of midfielders to displace, all of them trying to find elbow room in territory also contested by United stalwarts Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

What hope can there be for a happy and active future for Ji-Sung Park? For Kieran Richardson? For Fletcher?

When he was asked about Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson moving in on his patch Fletcher gave the sort of calmly diplomatic reaction which has endeared him to Sir Alex Ferguson from day one.

It was "exciting", he said, without even looking as if he was doing so through gritted teeth. "Obviously they are great players. If we are going to have fresh players for the Champions League and the Premiership then you need a big squad. I think we will be challenging on both fronts next season.

"The only one I've not seen a lot of is the boy Nani although I've heard a lot about him. But I've played against Anderson and obviously I know about Owen Hargreaves and I've always thought he was a good player.

"I played against Anderson in a friendly against Porto last summer. He's a typical Brazilian: great feet, very direct, and runs at defenders. I'm sure the manager thinks he's worth it and that he will prove to be worth it."

Fletcher's own worth to Manchester United is not a subject of universal agreement. He has yet to win any popularity contests in the stands.

Fletcher is a soft target for many Old Trafford supporters who are not convinced of his value, even if the admiration Ferguson has for him is obvious from more than simply the endless praise he has given the young Scot since signing him as a schoolboy.

Ferguson used Fletcher 40 times for United last season, which is a spoke in the wheel of those cynics who suggest he will have to settle for a move to the likes of Tottenham, Everton or Newcastle or else resign himself to being permanently described as a "squad player" at Old Trafford.

"That is the label you are given: squad player'. It's not something you like but at our club we have such a big squad that next season there will be a lot of squad players'.

"It's something you try to fight against but the only way to get around that is to start every week. Don't get me wrong, you want to play in every game, but that's not possible and I don't think that happens to many players at Manchester United.

"I am really happy because I know I played in a lot of games last season and contributed a big part to us winning the league and being in the latter stages of the Champions League and the FA Cup.

"There were times when I maybe played because they were resting Paul or Michael. Or Cristiano was maybe injured and they wanted to bring him back in. But the bigger picture is what's best for the team and the manager picks a team to win every game.

"Towards the end of the season I featured a lot, which was the best because we were challenging in the Champions League and the FA Cup and closing in on the Premiership. I was involved most weeks, which was pleasing.

"I think that comes from the discipline and the dedication you show earlier in the season. If you sulk and moan and say you've got something against me' you won't be in the right frame of mind to perform when the time comes."

Fletcher never played senior football in Scotland before joining United as a teenager and the likelihood of him finishing his career here reduced when he and his English partner, Hayley, had the twins.

"They are the priorities in my life now so it's difficult to talk about coming back to Scotland because you don't know what's going to happen, whether your kids will be settled down in school in England or whatever," he added.

"I love where I live. I have been there for seven years. I still regard Scotland and Mayfield as my home but I've started my own family down in England now. That's what I see as home now.

"Who knows what's around the corner in terms of moving to different clubs? It's not something you can think about. You just have to live for the moment and that's what I am doing."

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Posted by: derek, the east on 11:54am Sun 10 Jun 07
More power to your elbow. This is a pretty sensible outlook from a level headed young man.

No-one could fault his commitment to Scotland, which is a lesson others could take to heart, and as for Owen Hargreaves -

he's a squib.
Posted by: Christopher, Scotland on 12:57am Tue 12 Jun 07
Fletcher is a great professional. For Scotland he's a legend among the Tartan Army, and he's only 23. Just imagine what he's going to be like when he's older.

About the criticism that he receives from Manchester United fans. I do wish they would give him a break and just back him.
Posted by: Adriana, Macau on 9:47am Sun 20 Jan 08
Fletcher is good enough to play in Man United.
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