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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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Manchester United 2014 Review Part 2.


Hi and welcome back to my review of Manchester United’s 2014.

Part 2: The Louis van Gaal revolution begins.

On the 19th of May 2014, it was confirmed by the club that Louis van Gaal would replace David Moyes as Manchester United manager on a three-year deal. Ending speculation that had surrounded the club since the removal of Moyes.

The appointment of the Dutch coach seemed to generate a very positive feeling among the fans. Social media was buzzing with the news. We all new of his pedigree as a manager, and the success he had brought to his previous sides. Champion at Ajax, Barelona, AZ and Bayern Munich.

He was known as a very strict disciplinarian, but also a manager who brought the best out of his players, players that had nothing but respect for him. Here was the personality that United needed to pick the team up and move them forward.

One question remained though. Was there a place in the new set up for fans favourite Ryan Giggs? Was he even in the plans of van Gaal? The answer quickly arrived. Following a meeting between the two men over in Holland, Giggs was named as the assistant manager. This was a very shrewd appointment by the new manager, as Giggs was not only his link to the history and tradition of United, but most importantly the fans.

There was only one stumbling block to van Gaal joining United straight away, and that was the small matter of him managing the Dutch team at the World Cup in Brazil. The day to day running of the club was left to Giggs and CEO Ed Woodward.

In their first match at the World Cup Holland destroyed Spain 5-1. United striker Robin van Persie scoring the first with a header that seemed to defy gravity, as he started the rout that had United fans drooling with the thoughts of what we could expect from our new manager in the coming season.

While van Gaal was enjoying himself over in Brazil,  back home in Manchester new signings were arriving. Two players that had been rumored to have been courted by Moyes, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, were unveiled as the first signings under van Gaal. Many people argued that the deals were already in place well before van Gaal’s appointment. However, the Dutchman confirmed that he had given his approval.

Herrera joined from Athletic Bilbao on a four year deal thought to be around £28 million. Luke Shaw’s transfer from Southampton made him the most expensive teenager in the world at 18. Another four year deal at £30 million. The Summer was getting off to a good start.

Holland comfortably won their group at the World Cup by winning all their matches, and  entered the knock out stage. They defeated Mexico and Costa Rica before being eliminated by Argentina in the semi final on penalties. A great performance from the team under van Gaal’s guidance. But now it was time for Manchester United to welcome their new saviour with arms wide open.

There was a small matter of who would be the new club captain under van Gaal. Some were calling for van Persie, highlighting the Dutch connection, others were pushing for Carrick or Rooney. The manager chose Rooney, citing that an English club needed a British player to lead the team. Darren Fletcher was given the role of vice-captain. Which would change to Michael Carrick towards the end of the year, as Fletcher wasn’t getting enough playing time.

At the end of July van Gaal took his team on a pre season tour to the USA. During that time they won all their matches, beating LA Galaxy 7-0 in van Gaal’s first match in charge.

That was followed by victories over Roma and Inter Milan. What a start to his career with United, and better was to come with victories over Real Madrid, Liverpool and Valencia. That was all the evidence the fans needed to be sure that in the coming season we would be strong competition in the Premier League.

When the team returned to cooler weather back in Manchester there would be more news on the transfer front, and what news it was. Marcos Rojo joined from Sporting Lisbon. A utility defender who could fill in at left back or in the center. Then the big one, Argentine winger Angel Di María bought from Real Madrid on a five-year contract, the £59.7 million fee setting a new record for a signing by an English club, and taking the club’s summer spending to a reported £130 million.

Then on transfer deadline day there were two more additions to the squad. Daley Blind, who had played for van Gaal’s Holland team in Brazil, joined from Ajax to bolster the midfield. The last signing was a coup. Radamel Falcao came to United on a season long loan from AS Monaco. Falcao had had a terrible year with his knee injury, but when fit what a goal scorer.

As the new players came in it was time to say goodbye to a player who had come through the ranks at Old Trafford, Danny Welbeck. He joined Arsenal for a bargain £16 million. Some fans, ex-players and pundits, spoke of the death of United’s soul. This is ridiculous, in the reserves were the likes of James Wilson, who has the pace and eye for goal that we need as back up.

Anyway, who would they rather have, a world class proven striker in Falcao, or a player who in all honesty never lived up to the hype that surrounded him. I never thought Welbeck was up to scratch as a goalscorer, and I for one was not sad to see him depart. This was not a case of van Gaal ripping up the tradition of United’s youth policy, but simply him saying that Welbeck wasn’t good enough for him.

So, on the eve of a new season the stage was set for United to put all the problems behind them, and with a new manager and squad challenge once again for the title. Van Gaal asked the press to judge his progress after three months. After the pre season results, and quality signings, the atmosphere at Old Trafford for the season opener was bouncing with excitement.

Unfortunately, Swansea City hadn’t read the script. Van Gaal lost his first official game in charge, a 2–1 home defeat to the Swans. Then United lost 4–0 to League One side Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the League Cup. It wasn’t until the fourth match of the league season, a 4–0 home victory over Queens Park Rangers that Van Gaal won his first competitive game.

The main problem to the poor start was down to injuries, especially in defence. The team were already missing the experience of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra. Also, the players were finding it difficult to adjust to the new system of three at the back and five across the midfield, with wing backs supporting the defence. The philosophies of the Dutch manager were not getting through to the players, but it was early days.

United didn’t have the distraction of the Champions League which meant the team had the luxury of resting between matches. It was not a good sight to see other teams battling it out over Europe without United involved. The main target for the season ahead was to return to the illustrious competition.

After 10 league matches, United were in ninth place with 13 points and two victories, their worst start to the season since 1986–87. They were also suffering from injuries, including to new signings Herrera, Rojo and Falcao. These injuries and suspensions opened the door for two of United’s youngsters to show their qualities. Tyler Blackett, and especially Paddy McNair, were given the chance by van Gaal, and they both performed well. Showing that the youth system was thriving.

United’s first away win of the season came in the capital defeating Arsenal 2–1 at the Emirates Stadium to ascend into a lofty fourth position. The match was a smash and grab win, but a win all the same. This seemed to generate a new found believe within the sqaud, and they embarked on a nine game unbeaten run , 7 wins and 2 draws, right up until the last match of the year at White Hart Lane.
That run included a 3-0 win at home over dreaded rivals Liverpool. The good times were returning.

The last match of the year against Spurs was the first time United had fielded the same eleven players in consecutive games for over two years.

The man of the season so far has to be our No.1 David de Gea, whose performances have been world class. At times his saves have prevented the team from losing. No more so than in the match against Everton at Old Trafford. Not only did he save a Baines penalty, but in injury time athletically got his finger tips to prevent a certain goal attempt by Everton’s Oviedo. United won 2-1. Thanks mainly to him.

With rumours surrounding Real Madrid’s interest, it really is imperative that United get around the table to discuss a new contract for de Gea as quickly as possible to squash any chance of him returning to his homeland.

Two other players that deserve a special mention for their performances are Fellaini and Carrick. Fellaini has looked a totally different player compared to the one who flattered to deceive under Moyes. From a player who looked like his future lay somewhere else to an important cog in the middle of the park alongside Carrick. It’s no coincidence that United haven’t lost a match since Carrick returned from injury. He has shown his class both in midfield and defence.

Ending the year in the top three and unbeaten for two months certainly shows the progress that is being made. Van Gaal has had to cope with an unbelievable amount of players being injured, including the Summer signings, who have all suffered from varying degrees of shoulder, knee, ankle, rib, and pelvis problems. However, once they all return and play together, other teams beware.

There you have it, a year which started and finished poles apart. Twelve months that has ended with the Red Devils riding high where they belong. In a position to challenge for the top honours.

A year in which the supporters had to endure the worst season in the club’s illustrious recent history, fans who also had to put up with the ridicule that came with that, but who never stopped following the team home and away. Getting behind the side through the tough games, and most importantly, never stopped believing that the good times would return once more.

Not so much a phoenix rising from the flames, but more akin to a sleeping giant waking from its slumber ready to trample all over any team that stands in its way.

Roll on 2015.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my Manchester United 2014 year review. Please continue to follow my blogs throughout the remainder of the season.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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