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Munich ’58: The Flowers of Manchester.

 

On this day 57 years ago, a group of young men and officials of the most famous football club in England were waiting at Munich-Riem airport for their Elizabethan aircraft to be deemed ready to brave the snow and freezing temperatures to carry them on their journey back to Manchester. Read the full story

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A Fond Farewell to Fletcher.

It’s with a feeling of regret that I am writing this blog since it has been confirmed that Darren Fletcher has agreed to a move away from Old Trafford after almost twenty years on the United books.

A stalwart for the Red Devils during the heady days of Alex Ferguson through to the present, a player who didn’t always receive the recognition he deserved for his performances in the middle of the park. One thing is for sure the Scot is a fighter in more ways than one and always gave his best for the team.

Born in Dalkeith, Scotland and raised near Edinburgh, Fletcher played his youth football at Hutchison Vale and Tynecastle Boys Club before being scouted by Manchester United and became a young player at United in 1995 at the age of 11.

He was originally lined up as a right midfielder but over time Alex Ferguson and his coaches pulled him into a more central midfield role, progressing well he signed a professional contract on his 17th birthday.

Unfortunately due to a run of injuries his first team debut was behind the originally planned schedule. It eventually came on the 12 March 2003 against Basel in the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League. In the same season Fletcher received the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award.

The following year was his big breakthrough season playing a number of games culminating in a winners medal after United beat Millwall in the 2004 FA Cup final. It wasn’t until the following season that he recorded his first goal in United’s colours. It came in a 2–0 win over Middlesbrough on New Years day at the Riverside Stadium.

Due to the quality in the midfield, which included Keane, Ronaldo, Scholes, Carrick and Giggs, the Scots chances were limited over the next few seasons. His one outstanding performance came at Old Trafford in the 7-1 demolition  of Roma in the Champions League quarter-final in 2007.

In 2007-08 Fletcher struggled to find a regular place in the team as players like Anderson and Hargreaves were Fergie’s preferred choice to play in the middle. He made fleeting cameos, most notable in the FA Cup 4th round win over Arsenal, a match in which he scored a double. He received a Champions League winners medal in Moscow as an unused substitute.

Even though only on the fringe of the first team and mainly used as a substitute, Fletcher was rewarded by United with a new three year contract in 2008. Clearly this was a sign that Fergie valued his fellow countryman and did have plans for him.

In the 2008-09 season he managed triple the amount of appearances of the previous campaign, 42, and contributed to the cause with 4 goals. It was in the semi-final 2nd leg of the Champions League against Arsenal that still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Fletcher received a red card in the match and after evidence showed that it was clearly not a sending off offence the club appealed to UEFA asking for the ruling to be overturned, UEFA of course declined to accept the request and United went on to lose the final to Barcelona. Who knows what difference he would have made, but I believe the Barca players were slightly relieved not to see him play.

Fletcher had at last established himself as a first team regular after some serious head down work ethic, the same attitude that would see him through more difficult times in the future. However, for now, he was starting to flourish in the heart of United’s midfield and started to build a great partnership with Michael Carrick.

Over the next two seasons Fletcher played over 75 times for the Red Devils and chipped in with six goals, some of which were vitally important. It also included two Premier League titles and at the end of the campaign he was chosen for the Premier League XI and made club vice-captain.

In 2011 after missing so many matches many of the fans had an inkling that something was seriously wrong with Fletcher. Rumours were ripe, so in November Manchester United decided to reveal the seriousness of his condition.

It was announced that Fletcher had ulcerative colitis and he would be taking an extended break from football following medical advice. A year later, on the 17 January 2013, it was announced that Fletcher had undergone surgery aimed at resolving his condition.

Most were unsure of the severity of the illness and many thought that we had possibly seen the last of the Scot in the game. It was no surprise that his past hard work ethic paid off yet again as the popular midfielder battled his way through the illness and made a complete recovery.

He returned to action to tumultuous applause as a substitute on the 15th December 2013, making his first appearance for nearly a year, when he came on as a substitute for Ryan Giggs in a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa.

That season he went on to make a further 17 appearances, a true testament to the resilience of the player.

In the summer of 2014 it seemed that Fletcher would continue to progress after his illness with the arrival of Louis van Gaal. The new manager quickly let it be known how important he was to the transition of the club by naming Fletcher as vice-captain behind Wayne Rooney.

Following an unbeaten pre-season tour of the USA it was back to England and the start of the new season. Six players had joined the LvG revolution, including three new midfielders Herrera, Blind and record signing Di Maria. Deep down Fletcher must have known that this would limit his chances in the team and that has proven to be the case. Managing only a handful of appearances and relieved of the role of vice-captain the writing was on the wall.

A number of clubs came knocking at the managers door including numerous Premier League sides desperate for the experience that Fletcher would bring them. In the end the level headed Scot chose a move to the midlands to sign for West Bromwich Albion, meaning he could easily commute from his family home. The start of the next chapter in his career has begun.

I wish nothing but the best for Darren Fletcher in his future endeavours and thank him for all he has done in his time at Old Trafford. I’m sure all United fans will give him a standing ovation when he returns to play at the Theatre of Dreams.

Fletcher’s Manchester United honours:

Club app: 342 Goals: 24
Premier League: 5 times winner.
FA Cup: 1
Football League Cup: 2
FA Community Shield: 4
UEFA Champions League: 1
FIFA Club World Cup: 1

Scotland International app: 66 goals: 5

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Man United’s Backroom Boys.

Louis van Gaal’s coaching team.

So much is known about the pedigree of Man United’s assistant manager Ryan Giggs, but not that much is known in England about the others who work under Louis van Gaal. Here I will try and shed some light on the men who have the ear of the Dutch maestro.

Albert Stuivenberg. Assistant coach.

Stuivenberg was born in Rotterdam, Holland in 1970 and played professional football for SC Telstar and HFC Haarlem. He was forced into premature retirement in 1989 due to torn cruciate ligaments. Following the forced ending to his playing career Albert moved into coaching with Feyenoord where he spent the next 13 years.

His next coaching position after leaving Feyenoord in 2004 was at the Al Jazira Club of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. His role was to head up their youth system. He spent two years coaching in the Middle East then he was offered a chance to return to the Netherlands to coach the national team under-17’s. He twice led the youth team to victory in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship, in 2011 and 2012. This success lead to his promotion to manage the under-21s in 2013.

He joined United In July 2014 while Louis van Gaal was on World Cup duty in Brazil, and immediately set about working alongside Ryan Giggs in the coaching of the first team.

Frans Hoek. Goalkeeping coach.

Hoek was born in Hoorn, Holland in 1956. He started as an amateur goalkeeper at SV Always. He then played in goal at FC Volendam for more than a decade. In 1977 he achieved top flight football for the first time in the club’s history.

However, two seasons later they were relegated. In 1983 they regained promotion for the second time only to go down yet again in 1985. That’s when Frans decided to quit playing and consequently moved into coaching.

As a goalkeeping coach he worked at the top football clubs in Europe including Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He also helped out the Netherlands and Poland national teams.

Some of the keepers he has coached is an impressive list of number 1’s who’s who including former United favourite Edwin van der Sar, Stanley Menzo, Vítor Baia, Pepe Reina, Robert Enke, Lukasz Fabiariski, Thomas Kraft, Michel Vorm and new Red Devil Victor Valdes.

He worked closely with Louis van Gaal when he became manager at Ajax in 1991, and then followed him onto Barcelona an 1997. In 2000 he helped van Gaal with the the Netherlands national football team but returned to Barcelona two years later.

Hoek became the Polish team coach for four years which took in the 2006 World Cup Finals. In 2010 van Gaal came calling again, this time with a position to coach at Bayern Munich. At Bayern, Hoek had the duel role of goalkeeping and assistant coach.

When van Gaal left the Budesliga club to manage the Dutch national team for the second time it was only natural that Hoek went with him. Together they guided the Netherlands to the 2012 Euro Championships and of course the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup.

Hoek again teamed up with van Gaal again at Manchester United in the summer of 2014, replacing Chris Woods as the club’s chief goalkeeping coach.

Jos van Dijk. First-team fitness coach.

Jos van Dijk was born in Utrecht, Holland in 1957. (Not to be confused with Dutch player 1970’s Jan van Dijk.)  He has worked very closely with Louis van Gaal since his days at AZ Alkmaar following him to work at Bayern Munich and the Netherlands national team.

Eventually he moved to Old Trafford replacing Tony Strudwick in 2014 as a training physiologist in the summer of 2014.

In his role at United, he uses his experience as a member of the technical staff to coordinate with the medical and sports science departments daily. His main responsibility is the monitoring and analysis of the players’ fitness based on training and statistical data. It’s then up to van Dijk to pass all the information onto van Gaal in order for the manager to make decisions around training and individuals.

Marcel Bout. Chief opposition scout.

Bout was born in Haarlem, Holland in 1962.  Bout has worked at various clubs including  Feyenoord, FC Volendam, AZ Alkmaar, SC Telstar, FC Bayern Munich and the Netherlands national football as a coach and advisor.

Bout is another close cohort of Van Gaal’s having worked alongside the Dutch coach during his spell with AZ Alkmaar, which yielded the ‘Eredivisie’ championship success in 2009.

He joined van Gaal at Bayern Munich the following year where he largely worked as a match analyst, scouting their future opponents.

When van Gaal left Bayern, Bout remained with the Bavarianas in the role of assistant manager under head coach Andries Jonker then Jupp Heynckes. He left Germany in 2012 to become an assistant coach, technical analyst and scout with the Netherlands national under-21 football team.

Bout joined Louis van Gaal at Manchester United in the summer of 2014, becoming the assistant coach specialising in opposition scouting.

Max Reckers. Performance analyst.

Reckers was born in Eindhoven, Holland and is the youngest of the staff. He is known by his manager and colleagues as the ‘whizzkid’ of the coaching team.

His role as United’s performance analyst involves collecting and analysing all the players data. Together with the latest technology Reckers is able to provide a minute level of detail on players’ performances during matches. That information is passed on to the coaches and to the players themselves, in a bid to ensure continuous improvement.

He worked at  AZ Alkmaar, Bayern, Ajax and the Netherlands. He is thought of very highly by van Gaal, who often refers to Reckers as ‘like a son’.

There you have it the men most entrusted to Louis van Gaal’s inner circle, the men that have been with him through most of his managerial career and most certainly understand what makes him tick.

Let’s hope they can work their magic to return Manchester United to their rightful place as champions of England and Europe once again.

Miles Dunton.

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