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Old 11th May 2006, 08:14   #1
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Neil Cameron
11 May 2006
Daily Record

IF Darren Fletcher had been a Radio Five listener he may not have wanted to pull on a Manchester United shirt ever again.

Before his side's FA Cup tie against Liverpool at Anfield a few months ago, a reporter from that particular station was dispatched to a United bar to ask fans how they thought the game would go.

The first supporter questioned had no doubts. He said: "Well, Fletcher's playing so we'll lose." The Scot did start and hardly got a kick before he was subbed as Liverpool indeed won.

That game just about summed up the midfielder's season at Old Trafford.
Fletcher has certainly played plenty of matches for both club and country but it has been far from an easy time for him. The fans have come down hard on him, making Fletcher one of the scapegoats for United's poor season, although he is surely far too young to have to shoulder that.

Roy Keane's now famous TV rant about his team-mates was said to have included Fletcher as the ex-captain was supposed to have said: "I don't know why they rave about him so much in Scotland."

And to cap it off, Sir Alex Ferguson dropped him for the Carling Cup Final win over Wigan, the team's one and only glory moment of what had been an awful campaign.

Fletcher has talent by the bucketload and is nobody's fool.

At the Scotland team hotel in Kobe yesterday he spoke articulately about what he has gone through in the last 12 months and you got the impression he is of the "what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger" school of thought.

Fletcher said: "Having highs and lows is part and parcel of football. You can't be high all the time. I've seen that for myself.

"Every season is an experience. I managed to play more games than I did last season. United won a trophy and finished second in the league, although we obviously wanted to finish first.

"But on a personal note it was full of ups and downs. That is going to happen throughout my career.

"To play over 40 games is great because it's much more than I've played in the last two seasons. I stuttered a bit towards the end but that was down to the manager making the decision and, to be fair, Ryan Giggs and John O'Shea exceeded everyone's expectations in midfield.

"They have performed so well and I couldn't get back in. That's the way football is. If you perform you stay in the team.

"I did get back in for the game at West Ham, then got injured the next day in training, so it was a stop-start end of the season.

"It was disappointing to miss out on the Carling Cup Final. I'm not going to tell a lie and say I was happy, because I didn't feel part of the squad.

"I played every game in the build-up including the two semi-final matches and then to be left out for the final was a bitter disappointment.

"But I have experienced playing in two FA Cup Finals ahead of people like Ryan, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville.

"The manager picks the team on form at Manchester United and the players on form will play.

"The manager does speak to you and he let me know that I was a big part of the club. Ruud van Nistlerooy has been dropped, so has Christiano Ronaldo. That's life at United and you should be up for that challenge.

"I feel as if sometimes the manager has tested me. Missing out on the final has made me even more determined to prove him wrong."

Manchester United are always the story in England and Fletcher has come in for a lot of stick in the press down south.

It has been all new to him after such a fantastic start to his United and Scotland career but he is determined not to allow it to get him down.

Fletcher said: "Nothing goes unnoticed at United. The Press give you a high profile after a good win but if something bad happens then it's big news. You get used to it but it doesn't get any easier. I've learned to live with it.

"The Press can be hard. But the way I look at it there are only two people I have to impress and that's Sir Alex Ferguson and Walter Smith. The criticism hasn't been terribly bad and everyone does get it. It's nothing I can't handle."

Fletcher's best moment came in United's win over Chelsea, just a few days after Keane's last attempt at being a pundit.

United were on a downer because their talsiman had just left by mutual consent. While the Celtic star's opinion of his former team-mate is perhaps not so great, there is no doubting what Fletcher thinks of the Irishman.

He said: "Everyone has spoken about us replacing Keane but that will never happen. You can talk about Michael Ballack or anyone else but they won't replace Roy.

"That's not taking away from anyone's footballing ability but Roy was a one-off - a great player with leadership qualities on the pitch which nobody else had. He was a world-class player who was also a fantastic captain.

"I would have loved to have played in the testimonial against Celtic. I spoke to my friends who were at the game and was told it was a great occasion. But I couldn't play both games and I made the decision to come away with Scotland."

Fletcher has been to Japan before, although when Manchester United arrive in the Far East it's a bit like when the Beatles landed at JFK for the first time. Pandemonium ensues.

With Scotland this week, the hotel staff have dressed in tartan. It's not quite the same.

Fletcher said: "When I was here with United there was a parade at the airport and then you had to go up on a stage after yourname was called to be presented with some flowers. It was weird. There were fans who sat outside out hotel all day for an autograph.

"The amount of fan mail you get from the Far East is ridiculous. I would say 70 per cent of mine comes from Japan and China. I get a carrier bag full of stuff every week.

"Even walking about the malls over the last day or two people are asking you to sign cards with your name and picture that you've never seen in your life. It's a bit surreal to be honest."

At least there are still some Manchester United supporters out there who appreciate him.

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