Why don't opposition fans rate Darren Fletcher? It's a point that irks ManUtd.com's Ben Hibbs...
I had an argument recently with a Liverpool fan about Darren Fletcher. “He’s not a top, top player is he?” he said. “He’s OK, but he’s not as good as Mascherano.” I’m a big fan of Fletcher and that was all it took to set me off.
Even in the days when some United fans would grumble at the slightest error, I preached patience. The first time I saw him play was in 2002, I went to watch United’s Reserves for the first time against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. This lanky, skinny kid in the middle of the park was absolutely everywhere, spraying passes all over the pitch like a seasoned pro stepped down to the lower levels. It all looked so easy. You could tell then he was a class above the rest.
Upon his integration into the first-team, however, Fletch suffered because, as a young, lightweight lad, he had to earn his stripes out on the wing. He was labelled by many in the media as the new Beckham, well wide of the mark and frankly a lazy cop-out description of his talents. Then, when he moved infield, there was the void left by Roy Keane (even before Keane left he was no longer the all-action, box-to-box maniac he was in his prime). It was a tough education. But Fletch took it – and the negative comments he often received – on the chin.
Fortunately, Sir Alex is a good judge of character and talent. In the last few years he’s honed his game, bulked up in the gym – which he admitted he always found difficult to do as a young player because he just didn’t see the results of his hard work – and he’s now approaching the peak of his career. But while United fans are, in the vast majority, converts to what Fletcher brings to the team – technical quality, clever use of the ball, energy, a calm head and, lately, a great deal of maturity – fans of other clubs seem preoccupied with out-dated judgements.
Fletcher was one of United’s best players at times last season, and I honestly believe that had he not suffered one or two injuries