Manchester United have today officially announced that Darren Fletcher will be taking a leave of absence from football as a consequence of his ongoing health problems.
Whilst Darren was able to maintain remission of symptoms for a considerable period this has proved more difficult recently and Darren’s continued desire to play and his loyalty to both his club and country has probably compromised the chances of optimising his own health and fitness.
He has therefore accepted medical advice to take an extended break from the demands of training and playing in order to afford the best chance possible of achieving full remission once again.
This comes as a terrible blow to both Fletcher and United. For me, ever since he was wrongfully sent off in the Champions League semi-final in 2008 after making a fantastic last ditch tackle on Fabregas, Fletcher has been slowly on the decline and it is clearly due to his ongoing health battles. He has returned on a few occasions to make some appearances but has always found himself sidelined again within a few weeks. The club held discretion on disclosing detailed information regarding his illness and the constant ‘viral infections’ seemed a dubious cover-up but in light of the news today, it was an empathetic move from the club that I admire. The condition has been officially announced as ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel condition and it seems that Fletcher has been playing on despite rest being the best medicine for the troubling condition. I hope that Darren can make a full recovery for his own health. As for United, where does this leave us?
Fletcher joins Anderson and Cleverley on the long-term injury list and this leaves us with Carrick and Gibson our only remaining senior central midfielders. Phil Jones has showed his versatility recently and struck a partnership with Carrick that is bringing a quality to the centre of the pitch that we haven’t seen since Cleverley and Anderson were broken up due to injury, but our squad is worryingly thin in the midfield. Giggs, Rooney and Park have all played makeshift cameo appearances in the middle but it bears one question – will SAF choose to buy in January? The immediate response would be a resounding yes considering how limited our choices are but knowing SAF and his ability to use squad depth like no other manager, I will be surprised if we enter the market and replenish from outside our own walls.
United are already out of the Champions League and although it still is a bitter pill to swallow going from three appearances in the last four finals to crashing out at the group stage, it may be a blessing in disguise with all the injuries we are suffering from. Our concentration can be solely on retaining the Premier League and it means that our squad will not be stretched beyond it’s limits. SAF is not one to panic buy in the face of adversity and this season will probably be no different, with a midfield purchase in the summer the likely option. Both Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison have made their first senior appearances this year and impressed on occasions, so why would SAF bring players in from outside and hinder their chances of progressing? Pogba is an extremely coveted talent and to lose him to a club willing to give him more first team football would be a terrible blow, so SAF will be keen to give them as many opportunities as possible.
For the time being, our already stretched midfield is now on the verge of meltdown, especially if another injury comes along. With a busy festive period ahead, it is going to be really tough for the squad to come through it unscathed but as champions always do, they fight to the back teeth and we will do that as we always do. If any manager and squad can cope with it, it is us and as long as the belief remains, there is no need to buy in when replacements are waiting in the wings to grab their opportunities. Only time will tell if SAF does indeed choose to bring in a midfielder to strengthen the senior choices but from what I have seen from him over the years, I don’t think he will be making a move in January, apart from taking United back to the top of the Premier League that is.