Fletcher's career as a Red almost got off to fairytale start, though, when in May 2000 he was set to be included in the squad for the league trip to Villa Park. FA rules – and his schoolboy status – denied him the chance. He joined United officially as a trainee in July 2000, but injuries stymied his progress. He eventually made his debut against Basel in March 2003, but it was in the following season that Fletch made his mark, notching 35 appearances. By this stage, he was established as one of Scotland’s leading lights: he scored the solitary goal against Lithuania that earned a play-off for Euro 2004 and, later that season,
aged 20, became Scotland’s youngest captain for 118 years.
The 2004/05 campaign brought Fletcher’s first goal for United, in a 2-0 win at Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day. His most famous strike to date was against Chelsea in November 2005 when he headed the goal that ended the champions’ 40-game unbeaten run. Subsequent seasons saw him used intermittently, but the trend of selecting him for the biggest, most important games indicated the high regard in which Sir Alex held his countryman.
That faith was displayed when, in October 2008. Darren signed a four-year contract extension.