Manchester United's Darren Fletcher: Underrated Gem Or Glorified Reserve?
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The list of great players to have played for Manchester United is a lengthy one. From Billy Meredith to Wayne Rooney, with the likes of Best, Charlton, Law, Robson, Cantona, Schmeichel, Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and Cristiano Ronaldo in between, United have seen some of football's best walk through Old Trafford's doors.
The same can be said for Scotland. Denis Law, Kenny Dalglish, "Slim" Jim Baxter, Graeme Souness, and Alan Hansen have all graced Hampden Park with their skill and flair.
One player who may not come to mind when making either of those lists, however, is Darren Fletcher.
The current Scotland skipper is due to win his 50th cap in tomorrow's Euro 2012 qualifier against Liechtenstein, a tally many from the above lists failed to reach for their respective international sides.
He has gone about it in an unassuming way, quietly establishing himself as one of the most important members of not just the international set-up, but also his club side.
He is now seen as one of United's first choice players, so much so that, last year, the club desperately tried to get a red card overturned so the Scot could play in the 2009 Champions League final.
It would have completed his transition from once being in the shadows of his teammates, to suddenly being one of the shining lights of the side.
What's more, Fletcher has managed this without garnering headlines or column inches. His consistency, week in, week out, has been rewarded.
But is he really an underrated gem, worthy of a starting place alongside the more glamorous names associated with Manchester United, or is he merely a glorified reserve?
In a recent discussion with a friend of mine, he was giving his views on United's team compared to Liverpool's. One by one, we went through the players, and the inevitable arguments arose.
Pepe Reina or Edwin Van Der Sar? Glen Johnson or Rafael? Dirk Kuyt or Nani? Steven Gerrard or Paul Scholes? Fernando Torres or Wayne Rooney?
As far as I was concerned, perhaps predictably, the Liverpool players won all of these battles. As far as he was concerned, it was United that scored a whitewash.
One preference I simply could not understand, however, was his willingness to have Darren Fletcher ahead of Javier Mascherano.
Now, despite Mascherano's recent behaviour towards Liverpool, I still regard him as the best defensive midfielder in the world today. How anyone could want Fletcher instead of him was incomprehensible to me.
But he isn't alone in those thoughts. Indeed, it is not just United fans who think that either.
Fletcher was, after all, included in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year last season ahead of the likes of Gerrard and Lampard.
However, a recent comment by Liverpool legend Ian St. John about Mascherano is, I think, also applicable to Fletcher.
St. John said "He was good at what he did – but he was very limited as a footballer."
Fletcher is good at what he does. He will never be a headline-grabbing superstar—he simply doesn't have the quality of the likes of Rooney, Scholes, and Giggs—but he has pushed his abilities to the limit. He has made the very most of what he has.
You will find many better players than Fletcher in the Premier League, but few more solid and consistent. Eight or nine out of 10 displays are very rare for him, but six or seven out of 10 performances are common place, and every team needs a player like that in the side.
So is he an underrated gem or a glorified reserve? Well, neither really. He is by no means a "gem" of a player but, at the same time, he deserves his place alongside the world-class players at Old Trafford.
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