5th May, 2009. Robin Van Persie slammed home a well taken penalty against Manchester United in the 2nd leg of the 2008-09 Semi final. The 76th minute goal counted for nothing as United had 3 goals already on the score sheet, the match was won- in great fashion- but agony was evident on every United fan’s face. Darren Fletcher, the man who gave away the penalty was sent off. He looked to the sky as if he was asking for an explanation from the Gods. His tackle on Cesc Fabregas that lead to a straight red looked brutal at the first looking. The pain of watching him slowly descend to the locker room, realizing that he was out of the Finals, was a depressing sight.
United had lost its key man in the ultimate round. The replay of that tackle multiplied the pain and added some more agony. The tackle that looked like a foul was actually a brilliant piece of defending. Fletcher came in from behind towards a charging Fabregas and slid in with all his determination. He kicked the ball out of the runners grasp but the momentum lead Csec to fall to the ground. It was a horrendous decision by the referee. With utter disbelief, United officials and fans pleaded UEFA to overturn the wrong decision. All the prayers and requests fell into deaf ears. Darren Fletcher wouldn’t be playing the UEFA Champions League Final.
It was his ultimate dream to play in the Champions League final. He was an unused substitute in the previous year’s semi final that United won. But, this time, the stage was set for him. He had been an ideal partner in midfield to Michael Carrick. Sadly it was broken, to a poor refereeing decision. Manchester United lost the Final 2-0 to Barcelona. Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that the team missed Fletcher’s presence the most. On knowing that Fletcher will be suspended for the Final, Jose Mourinho expressed his thoughts on the situation…
“Fletcher is more important than people think. His work in midfield, especially in the midfield ‘wars’, in crucial matches is very important. Man United will miss his pace and aggression in defensive actions: he ‘eats’ opponents in defensive transition. I believe Xavi and Andres Iniesta are happy Fletch is not playing.”
Darren Fletcher- the player
It is hard to define a player of Darren Fletcher’s mould, but the fact of him being a ‘team man’ sums up all his performances and his character along the years. He will take thunderous shots to the gut, fall on his face and force a counter. Then he will run with all the energy in his feet and breath in his lungs and do whatever it takes to make a key pass or to get his teammates into better positions. One moment he is defending in his own 6 yard box, the next he is playing long balls to the strikers and then sprinting up the field to support the wingers. He was where you needed him, everywhere.
United fans do not love him for the crucial role he has played in several ‘Big’ matches. United fans love him because he was never a big talent; he was never an extraordinary player. He is what he is and he delivered what he has delivered, selflessly to the club, solely on basis of sheer determination and will to give the best for his team. He never had the touch of Platini, the cleverness of Makelele, the strength of Yaya Toure or the charisma of Roy Keane. All he had was two feet connected to his heart that unconditionally loved Old Trafford, the team of Old Trafford and the legacy of Old Trafford… and boy that was infectious!
Darren Fletcher- the big match player
In all the limited chances he was given by Fergie till 2008, Fletcher always showed promise and consistency that the manager always demanded. By 2008 he was the go to man when a big match was coming up. The best ‘Big match’ moment that comes into the memory of any United fan’s mind is Darren Fletcher’s looping header against Chelsea in 2005 which ended the Blue’s 40 match unbeaten run. Fergie chose Flethcer to start after doubters (Including Roy Keane, sadly) questioned his caliber to wear the United jersey.
His brace against Manchester City is noted as a great goal scoring performance, but his endless stamina to keep the dangerous City midfielders at bay turned out to be the decisive factor of the match. And that volley against Everton! Nobody can forget that. Most of the players, regardless of the hype that surrounds them or the price tags that depict their caliber, would have blasted that ball 10 rows above. But, Fletcher, that genius shot a rocket from his right foot in the top right corner of the Everton goal. That technique to keep a shoulder-high ball down was insane. That spoke volumes about the technique he actually possessed, but never unleashed.
Darren Fletcher- the fighter
Everyone knows about the bowel condition, Ulcerative Colitis to be precise, that Darren Fletcher suffered from. The operations and surgeries took away the playing time he deserved. The condition, in one way, took away his prime. 2 years of absence due to injury is anyways a setback, at that age- it was worse. He was the midfield foundation on which Fergie wanted to build a new team before retiring. Most of the people can’t walk after being diagnosed with this condition. But, Fletcher defied that.
He defied science and made a comeback, just to play football at a club where he belongs to. He came back, then again got operated. That continued for almost all the time he was diagnosed. His will to get back to the pitch he loved made him work harder to get back in shape. Louis van Gaal’s appointment as the manager of Manchester United saw many midfielders coming at Old Trafford. This limited Fletchers chances of achieving his dream with United- Playing the UEFA Champions League Final.
Without a glimmer of doubt, Darren Fletcher will be missed. Not because he was a United player, but because he was an inspiration. We United fans will never forget what he brought to the team, the game and the fans. He is a source of belief. He made us believe that giving your best is a talent, just like any other talent that exists. Deep in our hearts we know that we wanted him to retire at United as a one club man. We know in our heart of hearts that he didn’t substantially get what he deserved. But he has the backing of us fans who believe in him. We all hope that his time at West Bromwich Albion is full of success and satisfaction. We pray for his good health and wish to see those tireless performances again. Farewell Fletch…
We will never forget you Fletch. We love you…