DARREN Fletcher’s reputation has soared by missing the Champions League final - now he wants to prove he can match the hype on the pitch.
It has become a familiar refrain this summer as Fletcher has wandered round the posh Cheshire suburb he calls home with his twin sons. “If only you had been there, it wouldn’t have happened.”
For a player who spent so long gaining recognition from the United faithful, too many of whom wrongly claimed the Dalkeith-born star was only being persevered with because his manager had an aching desire to bring one of his fellow countrymen through the Old Trafford ranks, it is quite a statement.
Yet it is also the inescapable conclusion to draw from the European Cup final, when United were passed to death by Barcelona, completely incapable of preventing Andres Iniesta and Xavi torturing and tormenting them at will as Fletcher stewed in the stands, consigned there due to the needless red card he picked up when the semi-final at Arsenal was already won.
Not that Fletcher is about to let the adulation go to his head.
“The only thing people have said to me this summer is that United missed me in Rome,” he said.
“It is nice to hear and I did feel I made a big step forward last season.
“But sometimes you become a better player by not playing. People notice you because you are not there. It is easy to sit in the stand. I was desperate to be out there.”
Fletcher is not quite as phlegmatic as Paul Scholes yet at heart he remains a pretty grounded individual which is why he will consign the agony of having to sit in a suit at the Olympic Stadium for what should have been the biggest night of his career to the back of his mind.
Strong enough to accept the captaincy of his country, then reject George Burley’s request not to play in Sunday’s Community Shield so he would be fresh for Scotland’s crucial World Cup qualifier in Norway on Wednesday, Fletcher is mentally tough enough to know the challenges he still faces.
“I was always going to play for Scotland this week but I did not want to miss a Manchester United game either,” he said.
“There is competition for places at this club. If you take your face out of things it gives someone else a chance to perform, so I wanted to be fighting for my place.
“I want to play for Manchester United as much as I do for Scotland.”
Undeniably, last season’s was Fletcher’s best and most consistent.
The 25-year-old made 42 appearances last term and the vast majority of his contributions were telling ones in a season that ended with a third Premier League title if not a place in Rome.
“There are some great midfielders at the club but I managed to get into the team for the start of the season and stay there for most of it,” he said.
“My performances improved because of the continuity of playing most weeks.
“Now I feel as if I am right in there competing for a place in the starting line-up each week, although I can’t take anything for granted because there is so much competition.”
As United move into the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, Fletcher is expecting more rigidity, with an orthodox 4-4-2 formation replacing the flexible patterns their Portuguese superstar used to prefer.
However, that should not be translated into a lowering of standards as Fletcher feels United are well capable of registering an unprecedented fourth consecutive domestic crown.
“Obviously Cristiano is a great player and was a big part of our success. But it is a team game,” he said.
“A lot goes into creating a winning team and we still have the nucleus of that.
“We have also brought in Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia, plus Gabriel Obertan. We have not seen much of him yet but the other two have looked really good, which makes us feel confident about doing well.”
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