The Busby Babe continues with the 22nd installment of our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews. Next up is midfielder Darren Fletcher.
I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.
What was expected
Fletcher hardly featured in the latter half of the 2010-11 season due to a then mystery illness. The energetic midfielder was able to return for the start of the 2011-12 campaign, but in December 2011, it was revealed that he had been suffering from ulcerative colitis and due to the debilitating condition, he would be out indefinitely. In the past summer, there was no expectation that the Scot would contribute to this season -- or if ever again -- and the only real hope for him was for his health to improve. In August, though, the beloved United midfielder made a substitute appearance against Aberdeen in Neil Simpson's testimonial. Might he, then, return this season?
What we got
* GS: games started (substitute appearances),G = goals scored, A = assists, Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, FT % = final third passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = successful crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, LB = accurate long balls per game, LB % = long ball accuracy rate, TB = successful through balls per game, DRB = successful dribbles per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game
It was a lovely scene, when on September 19 in a UEFA Champions League match versus Turkish giants Galatasaray, Darren Fletcher strolled onto the pitch at the Theatre of Dreams as a 78th minute substitute to a (semi-) full house of applause. It wasn't that we thought he was back for good, it was merely the simple satisfaction that it was great to see him for now at Old Trafford. It was one of those proverbial 'live-in-the moment' instances with his health concerns as context.
The Scot did feature in a handful of matches early in the season, often as the calm anchor in a diamond midfield, but it was a false dawn as his season was again ended due to his chronic illness by Boxing Day. At this point, a decision had been made to try and resolve his medical condition rather than just trying to treat the symptoms. Fletch did, though, collect a medal at season's end for United's Premier League title.
Well, this was Sir Alex Ferguson's assessment in late January:
"The rampaging Fletcher of old has gone but I'm sure he will be a success in a better-paced job. We hope to have him back in action for next season and there will be a different role for him along the lines of how he played this season, sitting in front of the back four as the holding midfielder. Darren coped well during the last few months and he made a return to football [after his initial spell on the sidelines] with 10 senior appearances. His treatment was going well, but the problem surfaced again and the advice was [to] have surgery. The decision was taken with Darren's long-term health in mind just as much as getting back to his career."
It's hard to know, obviously, if Fletcher will be back next season (or if ever). If he does return, though, it's uncertain on how new manager David Moyes will feel about the midfielder. The former Scotland captain won't likely be the flying and energetic midfielder that does a tactical (and often thankless) job of screening for more technical players in a box-to-box role. However, as Ferguson alludes to, perhaps he can return by being a calm and assured presence in front of the back four that is reliable in possession. Realistically, the hope still should be for Fletch recovering well and living a life with relatively normal health. Anything beyond that should be considered a bonus for both the player and club. Anything less than that should be considered unfortunate. No matter what happens, though, we should all be grateful for the service that the Scot has already provided for the club.