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Few players have embodied better than Darren Fletcher what it means to represent Manchester United.
The Scottish midfielder enjoyed a long and successful career at Old Trafford, clinching numerous trophies as a player before finally moving to a backroom position at the club after 20 years of being on the club’s books.
Now, he has been promoted to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching staff for the first team, having initially worked with the club’s Under-16s. But what else has Fletcher been up to since he first left the club in 2015, and why is he back now?
Fletcher, a former Scottish international and regular captain, made a name for himself as a reliable midfielder from field to field with Manchester United.
Born and raised north of the border, Fletcher played his youth soccer locally before being drafted by United, who signed him and brought him to the academy when he was just 11 years old.
He was set to become the youngest player in club history when he was selected to the squad for the final day of the 1999/00 season, but a combination of Premier League rules and a broken foot meant he had to wait until March 2003 to debut with the first team.
Fletcher remained a critical part of the United team until 2010/11, during which time he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a long-term condition that can cause significant colon problems.
He remained on United’s books as he took extended breaks from soccer to undergo surgery and recover, but ultimately left the club in February 2015 after never playing in contention again.
The Scotsman left the club with 342 appearances for United under his belt. He won five Premier League titles and played a major role in the 2007/08 Champions League triumph.
West Bromwich Albion won the race for Fletcher’s signing in February 2015, bringing the 31-year-old on a free transfer; and it was the change of scenery that he needed to rediscover his mojo.
He made 15 appearances for the remainder of the 2014/15 season before appearing in all 38 games in 2015/16 and 2016/17, something he never achieved with United and a record he hadn’t come close to matching since 2009 / 10. .
The expiration of Fletcher’s contract in 2017 saw the midfielder move to Stoke City, with whom he spent two years in the Premier League and the Championship.
Fletcher left Stoke in the summer of 2019, and quickly decided to start studying to earn his coach badges, without officially ruling out playing again.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak effectively ended any hope of a return. Fletcher confessed to saying BBC Radio Scotland that the disease meant he was a high-risk person, so it seemed unlikely at the time that he would return to football.
After taking a break to focus on earning his badges and staying healthy, Fletcher returned to United in October 2020, taking on a role with the club’s Under-16 squad while doing some expert duties on television and radio.
He clearly impressed enough to earn a promotion to the senior team in January 2021, and Solskjaer insisted that Fletcher “has United DNA running through his veins and knows exactly what it takes to be a Manchester United player.”
Whether or not Fletcher can help the United manager reach the same levels of success he enjoyed remains to be seen, but there is no question that he knows what it takes to be a winner.
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