Scotland's Fletcher has a World Cup dream
The wretched look on Darren Fletcher's face as he dragged himself on to a coach out of the Emirates Stadium last May, after the dismissal against Arsenal which had just deprived him of a place in the Champions League final, told you that the evening's Italian referee Roberto Rosetti might well haunt him for all of his footballing years.
Fate can conjure all manner of outcomes, though, and the Fletcher who was back in London for the Community Shield on Sunday, before flying to Oslo to join the Scotland squad for tonight's key World Cup qualifier against Norway, could reflect that the red card in question might just have been the making of him.
Fletcher's absence against Barcelona in the final at the Stadio Olimpico and the United midfield's subsequent struggle to contend with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez have, to Fletcher's mind, contributed something unexpectedly valuable to his own reputation.
“People talk about Rome and the fact that I couldn't play because of the suspension but sometimes you become a better player in some people's eyes when you don't play,” he said.
It was a compliment that Sir Alex Ferguson was the first to pay as the inquisition into United's 2-0 defeat to the Catalans began.
The net result is that Fletcher can finally go into a Premier League season with not just hopes of a regular place in United's starting XI — but expectations.
“I feel as though I am right in there and fighting for my place in the starting line-up now,” he said. “Though I know that I can't take anything for granted because you only have to look at the quality of the players who can come in.”
Though Fletcher will lead out the Scots in the Ullevaal Stadium this evening, the 25-year-old was not willing to jeopardise his position with United to accede to his nation's request to forego the Community Shield to preserve himself for an encounter which, with George Burley's side second behind runaway leaders Netherlands, could leave them needing a win against Macedonia at Hampden next month to secure the runners-up spot.
“If you take your face out of the picture, somebody else is always waiting to come in and perform, so that's why I wanted to be at Wembley too, fighting for my place,” Fletcher said.
As for South Africa next year, Fletcher said: “I'd love to play in a World Cup. Some great players don't get the chance. I want to make sure I do get that opportunity.”