On the eve of his 13th season as a Manchester United player, Darren Fletcher must prove himself all over again... and the 30-year-old Scot looks bang up for the fight.
With a steely eye and an air of impatience, Fletch yields a stubborn determination to make up for lost time after missing two years of football while battling ulcerative colitis, a debilitating bowel condition. Now thankfully back to full health, having made a successful comeback during the otherwise chastening 2013/14 campaign, he is relishing his first pre-season since 2011.
Sat beside Ryan Giggs during a press conference to launch REUNITED14, a pre-season friendly match against Valencia on 12 August, Fletcher watched on as reporters continually quizzed the Welshman on his working relationship with Louis van Gaal and the new era that is about to kick off at Old Trafford.
This was natural, given that the press hadn’t heard from Giggs since his playing career came to an abrupt end in May. However, just as proceedings were coming to a close, with ‘final’ questions delivered, Fletch took a late query from the floor: "Just how big a summer is this for you?"
Without hesitation, the Scot delivered a typically articulate answer, reminding everyone of the physical challenges he has been forced to overcome. “Players always talk about how important pre-season is and I haven't been in a position to do one for about three years, so I'm dead excited about it. It almost brings you back to a level playing field with everyone else – you’re back in training at the same time as everyone else, rather than playing catch-up all season, which can be difficult. It's the ideal scenario for me. I'm really looking forward to building up my fitness base as best as I can. Knowing a big part of my game is based on fitness, this pre-season will be vital for me for the season ahead.”
Aside from his spirit, what is perhaps most impressive about Fletcher is his honesty. Yes, he talks candidly about his health issues, partly to raise awareness of the condition, but he is also keen to point out his full recovery. He is acutely aware of the sympathy that has been afforded to him - and is definitely grateful - but he does not want a free pass. Cameo roles in the second half, playing simple passes to a cacophony of cheers from United fans will not cut it. He wants to star, he wants to lead.