The announcement that Wayne Rooney will assume the mantle of club captain at Manchester United for the coming season will certainly divide opinion amongst fans, and that is another discussion for another day. One decision which should be universally welcomed amongst the Old Trafford faithful, however, is Darren Fletcher’s appointment as Wayne’s understudy. Fletch may not be the most talented footballer ever to pull on a red shirt, nor the most vocal, fearsome presence on the pitch (Roy Keane, anyone?) but there are many reasons that he is an ideal choice for the vice-captaincy.
Firstly, it may seem odd for Louis van Gaal to have selected a player for this role who has not been a regular feature of United’s first team over the past few years. Of the six pre-season fixtures under the new manager though, the Scottish midfielder has started five – clearly an integral part of his plans for the season ahead. Making up a central midfield duo with the dazzlingly promising new recruit, Ander Herrera, Fletch has been showing the form of old – tireless legs, consistent link-up play and defensive solidity. There have been prayers from United fans the world across for a new midfield signing but with no sign of any imminent arrivals, perhaps this is the perfect chance for Fletcher to show that he still has what it takes to play at the highest level.
There is a time and a place for sentimentality in football as it can be all too easy to get carried dreamily away by attachments to certain players, managers or fixtures. When it comes to Darren Fletcher, however, all of the affection and respect is entirely justifiable. Ulcerative colitis is a deeply debilitating illness which can affect sufferers in a host of different ways, but it is – at the very least – going to leave you feeling weak and drained, pretty much constantly. For the average person this is, at best, incredibly inconvenient and in severe cases, completely life-changing. For a professional athlete to develop the condition, lose a dramatic amount of bodyweight, overcome it, and return to playing for one of the world’s top football clubs, is truly astounding and should be applauded by all. It is a testament to Fletch’s mental strength and desire to return that he is still involved in the game at all and this can only be a direct inspiration to any young player who now operates under his vice-captaincy. If that isn’t captain material, I don’t know what is.
Having lost Giggs, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra this summer, United are left with very few senior figures in the dressing room. Fletcher has been around since 2003, fighting his way through a period of criticism from his own fans before becoming an integral part of a championship winning side; just think back to how his presence (due to a contentious suspension) was so sorely missed in the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona. He has been through it all in a United shirt and his experience alone will demand respect from the newer members of the squad.
The vice captaincy role may not be one of the most prestigious accolades in football but it is a vote of faith in Fletcher and a reward for everything that he has given to Manchester United. We’re over the moon for you, Darren, and we’re sure that you’ll do us proud.