At the age of 26, Darren Fletcher is only a few months away from celebrating ten years since signing his first professional contract at Old Trafford. Now, as he joins a list of Scottish legends by winning his 50th cap when leading his country against Liechtenstein at Hampden Park, Fletcher admits in his understated way that “It’s a nice moment when you reach these milestones in your career. But to be honest my primary concern is the points and winning the game rather than me winning my 50th cap. That’s something I will think about afterwards.”
Fletcher’s United career has been on a slow burner. Last season was arguably the Scot’s best in a red shirt. He proved time and again he can handle the pressure against the cream of England and Europe while inspiring those around him. His all action display in the dramatic 4-3 Manchester derby victory in September 2009 yielded two fine headed goals and he netted one of the strikes of the season against Everton two months later. As well as popping up on the score sheet, Fletcher found himself playing in defence during a torrid spell of injuries. One of United’s most consistent performers throughout, he oozed class and energy when United needed it most.
The midfielder is now the captain of Scotland after making his debut as a 20 year old back in 2003. The goalless draw in Lithuania on Friday was a disappointing start to their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign but now get the chance to put it behind him at Hampden Park against one of Europe’s most lowly opponents.
Fletcher admitted that there can be no slip ups, with world and European champions Spain and the Czech Republic also in their group “With respect to qualifying for the Euros there can be no slip ups” he said “if we can get three points against Liechtenstein giving us four points from two games, it’s a satisfactory start and it’s not too bad a position from then on. We’ve got games coming up against Czech Republic and Spain, so that’s why it’s imperative against Liechtenstein to get three points. Anything other than that is disastrous towards qualifying.”
Scotland have not qualified for a major tournament since the World Cup in 1998, something which Fletcher is desperate to change “I think the biggest thing when you represent your country first and foremost is qualifying for a tournament” he added “that’s what all my focus is on and not selfish reasons trying to build up caps. My focus is to play for my country, enjoy representing my country and try and qualify for a major tournament” he admitted “hopefully with the three points and a nice win I can look back and enjoy the fact that I’ve gained 50 caps for my country and be very proud of that.”
Sir Alex Ferguson offered his congratulations as Fletcher left United for the international break but the midfielder will wait until after the game to reflect on his Scotland career thus far. “We spoke about it before we left and he said ‘enjoy the moment’. It is hard to enjoy the moment, because my focus is on winning the game.” he said “hopefully with the three points and a nice win I can look back and enjoy the fact that I’ve gained 50 caps for my country and be very proud of that.”
Congratulations Darren, 50 caps are only a start, you have many more on the way.
Is Darren Fletcher sufficiently appreciated by Manchester United fans?