Manchester United Can't Bank on First-Team Return for Darren Fletcher

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Manchester United Can't Bank on First-Team Return for Darren Fletcher
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It will have been difficult for even the staunchest fans of Manchester City and Liverpool not to raise a smile at the news that Darren Fletcher is back playing football.

In the days of intense tribalism, there are still certain circumstances that can unite supporters. One of the good guys recovering from a serious bowel condition is one of them.

After being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in December 2011, Fletcher has taken his first tentative steps back to the first team with the Under-21s. He completed 90 minutes for the reserves against Stoke earlier this month.

It's good news for Fletcher and his manager David Moyes, whose midfield remains the one area in need of serious improvement.

It's been a long road back for the Scotland international. He was restricted to 10 appearances during the 2011-12 season and another 10 last season.

His last appearance for the first team was as a last-minute substitute in the 4-3 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford on Boxing Day almost a year ago.

He underwent surgery in January, and the hope is he will be able to find a way to manage his condition to the point that allows him to resume his career.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Most people involved in football are rooting for a happy ending. But unfortunately for Moyes, he can't bank on one. 

Fletcher has twice been forced to take extended breaks in the last two years and it could happen again.

To expect Fletcher to play 30 or 40 games a season is unrealistic. It would be nice, but it's unrealistic. 

Given the injuries to Michael Carrick and Phil Jones and the stuttering form of Tom Cleverley, Marouane Fellaini and Anderson Luis de Abreu Oliveira, there will be an understandable temptation to throw him back in.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

But for the sake of Fletcher's career, it can't be allowed to happen.

For now, Moyes is saying all the right things, insisting he "doesn't want to do anything that might give him a set-back."

At 29-years-old, Fletcher can't afford any more.

To be able to bring a player with Fletcher's experience back into the fold would be a bonus for Moyes. And to play 20 games a season for the next three or four years would represent a success for Fletcher.

Ryan Giggs, approaching his 40th birthday, is being carefully managed by United's coaching staff to help squeeze every last ounce of football out of him. 

Fletcher deserves the same respect after such a long journey back.

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