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Manchester United’s midfield enforcer makes his return

by Sam Peoples

It was emotional to see Darren Fletcher take to the field for another game in Manchester United colours when he came on as a substitute for Shinji Kagawa in the 84th minute yesterday against Galatasaray in the Champions League.

After missing ten months of action with with ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease with no known cause, some wondered if he would ever play again. It’s a testament to Fletcher’s character that he’s been able to make this remarkable comeback.

With such an unpredictable disease, it was reasonable to suppose Darren Fletcher’s career was over. Even when it was announced he would play in the U21s, where he’s made four appearances this season, many were cautiously optimistic, as the physical demands at the reserves are much less than in the first team. Yet Fletcher never showed any doubt he would make a comeback, even when he lost a large amount of weight due to illness.

Seeing number 24 running out onto that famous Old Trafford pitch was a wonderful moment for everyone, the details of his performance are much less important today than the fact that he was able to play at all. Commenting on the occasion, Sir Alex added said:

“I think the support recognised what a tough time he’s had for the last year. I think that was a mark of respect, they gave him a marvelous ovation.

“Being out of the game for a year, it took quite a few minutes to really get going. He did one or two good things, but he can only get better after tonight.”

Darren Fletcher was a crucial player for us before this illness started to slow him down and ultimately stopped him playing all together. His defensive, dogged game famously brought out the ire of Arsene Wenger, who claimed he played “anti-football”.

But anyone who knows his game will recognise his all around attributes. You don’t get into a Manchester United team as nothing but a defensive destroyer. You must be able to pass and read play at a very high level.  As Sir Alex Ferguson has said, he doesn’t play defensive midfielders, anyone who wants to play in one of his midfields must be able to attack.

Darren Fletcher clearly isn’t back to his best but you can hardly expect someone to sit out for ten months without showing a lot of rust. After some impressive performances with the U21s, his return to match fitness is well under way, as Sir Alex said earlier this month:

“Darren’s put a lot of weight back on. He’s back to his normal weight from two or three years ago. It’s a case of wait and see.”

Of course Sir Alex has always shown great faith in Fletcher and on more than one occasion he has shown his big game credentials, often coming into the team in the most difficult situations. His industry in closing down defenders is certainly a huge asset and at his best he can make a game nearly impossible for the opposition, just ask Wenger.

Let’s hope he is truly clear of symptoms and is blessed to never suffer them again.  There are treatments that can send the disease into remission but it is a serious condition that can return without warning. It’s unknown if the disease is effected by extreme levels of exercise, so there’s no reason to keep him from resuming his career.

Darren Fletcher’s constant industry is crucial to his play and there’s no reason to think he’ll be restricted in his movement as long as the disease stays in remission. Thankfully he’ll have the best medical care possible, especially with Manchester United’s new medical centre set to be open by the end of the year.

An extremely mobile midfield like Fletcher will improve our squad greatly, he’s just what we’ve been missing.

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