More often than not, Sport produces the glamour boys, the poster boys, the much celebrated and talked about characters who get a fair share of limelight. Then there are the players who are obscured by the aura cast by the high-profile participants.
While this reduces their visibility, it definitely does not diminish the role they perform for the team. These guys are akin to the working class, quietly going about their jobs, surrendering the fame to someone else.
If there was ever a true working class hero, Darren Fletcher is one of them, in the shadows of his much fancied colleagues like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
Fletcher has a very unassuming approach to the game and makes the best of what he’s given. He works hard for the team and enables everyone around him to play with freedom.
Sir Alex Ferguson often called Fletcher and Park Ji-Sung big match players. One look at Fletcher’s goalscoring record against arch rivals and in derbies proves that true.
Fletcher is a product of the Manchester United academy. Earlier he was seen as a potential replacement to David Beckham, but as he progressed he was moulded to play a more central role.
Making his debut in the 2003/04 campaign, he kept playing small roles in the midfield. A huge chunk of his appearances were in the Cups and substitute appearances in the league.
In 2005, Fletcher found himself in the firing line when Roy Keane famously criticised him in an interview as an over-hyped player. But within a month Fletcher silenced his critics with a glancing header against Chelsea.
This gave birth to the a golden era for United with the team winning the League Cup, a hat-trick of Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008. His performance against Barcelona in the 2008 semi-final of Europe's elite club competition is one of the primary reasons why the Red Devils overcame Barcelona to setup the title clash with Chelsea.
Despite a slow start, Fletcher went on to establish his place firmly in the heart of the Manchester United midfield. He formed a wonderful partnership with Michael Carrick. Despite the arrival of many new signings, their bad form and injuries ensured that Fletcher’s playing time remained intact till it was cruelly cut short by medical problems.
Most of the club's midfielders are compared to Roy Keane and Bryan Robson who are considered the epitome of what a Manchester United midfielder should be and not measuring up to these two stalwarts was akin to a cardinal sin.
Fletcher could not be more different from them, both in terms of temperament and demeanour. But the similarity was the desire, the work rate, the transition from attack to defence and scoring important goals against tough opponents.
Fletcher’s importance was outlined by Jose Mourinho prior to the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona by highlighting the relief of Xavi and Andres Iniesta on after hearing of the Scotland international's absence.
United went on to lose that final, Fletcher’s presence was sorely missed in the midfield which had Park and Ryan Giggs both playing out of position.
The 2009 Manchester derby in September will always be remembered for the dramatic late goal scored by Michael Owen - few remember Fletcher’s two goals in that game.
He was forced out of the game when he was diagnosed with an ulcerative colitis that hampered his ability to play football. It is safe to say that the hole left by him is one that Manchester United never managed to fill.
Fletcher personified what United stood for under Ferguson - the desire to win, never say die attitude, punching above your weight, the bloody mindedness and putting your club before anything in the world.
As the 31-year-old walks away from Old Trafford at the end of this month, he will look back fondly on his career and have no regrets. He will definitely be welcomed back to United in the future in a coaching role. Whoever pulls on the jersey #24 in the future has huge boots to fill.
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