Darren Barr Fletcher (born 1 February 1984) is a Scottish footballer who plays as a central midfielder and captains West Bromwich Albion and the Scotland national team. He has also played as a right winger and on occasion in defence.
Fletcher came through the ranks of Manchester United's Youth Academy and spent 20 years with United, making 342 appearances for the club. With them he won five Premier Leagues, one FA Cup, two League Cups, the UEFA Champions League, three FA Community Shields and the FIFA Club World Cup. Fletcher was included in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for 2009–10. He was named vice-captain in his last season with the club.
Fletcher made his Scotland debut in 2003 and scored his first international goal on his second appearance. The following year, he played as the team's youngest captain for over a century. After Barry Ferguson was banned from international football because of a breach of regulations, Fletcher was given the captaincy on a full-time basis in August 2009. He has won 77 caps and scored five goals for Scotland.
The middle of Fletcher's career was disrupted by an extended break from football due to continuing health problems caused by ulcerative colitis. Between November 2011 and December 2013, he played only ten times for his club, undergoing in early 2013 an operation to lessen the effects of the condition after a failed return in September 2012.
Fletcher was born in Dalkeith and raised in Mayfield near Edinburgh. He was educated at St Luke's RC Primary School and St David's RC High School in Dalkeith.
Fletcher played his youth football at Hutchison Vale and Tynecastle Boys Club before being scouted by Manchester United. He joined Manchester United as a youth player at the age of 11. Fletcher was set to become the youngest player ever to appear in the Manchester United first-team when he was selected for the club's final fixture of the 1999–2000 FA Premier League season against Aston Villa on 14 May 2000, but Premier League rules prohibited players on schoolboy contracts from appearing at the senior level, and Fletcher's debut was delayed. He subsequently signed a trainee contract in July 2000, before signing his first professional contract on 1 February 2001, his 17th birthday.
Meanwhile, he gradually progressed through the club's youth teams, and was part of the reserve team that won the Manchester Senior Cup in 1999–2000. He was initially seen as a right midfielder in the David Beckham mould and was tipped by many to break into the first-team with ease and stay there for many years to come, but as he developed he came to be viewed more as a central midfielder.
Over the next couple of seasons, Fletcher's involvement was limited due to various injuries, including a broken foot. Nevertheless, by the 2002–03 season, he had become a regular member of the reserve team, and after several appearances as an unused substitute, he finally made his first-team debut on 12 March 2003 – almost three years behind schedule – starting on the right side of midfield against Basel in the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League. He was substituted for David Beckham after 73 minutes, but a second Champions League appearance followed against Deportivo de La Coruña a week later, and he was named as a substitute for both legs of the quarter-final tie against Real Madrid. For his performances for the reserve team during the 2002–03 season, Fletcher received the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award.
Fletcher broke into the Manchester United team during the 2003–04 campaign, playing a number of important matches and starting in United's FA Cup Final win over Millwall in May 2004. Despite a slow start to the 2004–05 campaign, in which in the early part of the season he made very few competitive appearances, Fletcher again broke into the United first-team. On 1 January 2005, Fletcher scored his first goal at club level in a 2–0 win over Middlesbrough.
Fletcher was one of the players singled out for criticism by club captain Roy Keane in the wake of United's 4–1 defeat to Middlesbrough in October 2005. Keane reportedly said, "I can't understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher." However, Keane later attempted to set the record straight stating, "If you listen to any of my comments over the last two or three years, if I've given any player credit over the years it would be Fletch. Fletch will tell you that himself." Fletcher went some way towards answering his critics on 6 November 2005, with his performance in the vital league match at home to Chelsea, scoring the only goal of the game with a looping header. His winning goal ended Chelsea's 40-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.
In 2006–07, at the start of the season Fletcher retained a place in the first-team but only on the bench and scored in an away win over Charlton Athletic, as well as scoring the headed winner in the away game with Middlesbrough in December and another headed goal in the home win against Charlton in February, making it a double against the club that season. As the season progressed, Alex Ferguson preferred the midfield quartet of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs, limiting Fletcher to a few substitute appearances. However, with Scholes absent through suspension, he made a starring appearance in United's 7–1 win over Roma in the Champions League quarter-final.
In the 2007–08 season, with the further arrival at the club of fellow central midfielders Owen Hargreaves and Anderson and winger Nani, Fletcher played even less than he did during the previous season. As before, Ferguson preferred Carrick, Scholes, Giggs and Ronaldo to him in midfield, and got even less playing time than the new arrivals. He did, however, put in some stalwart performances when given the chance, including two goals in the 4–0 defeat of Arsenal at Old Trafford in the FA Cup fourth round. Fletcher picked up a Champions League winner's medal but was an unused substitute in the final.
In the 2008–09 season, Fletcher started the first two games, due to injuries to Carrick and Ronaldo, and scored against Newcastle United at Old Trafford in United's first Premier League match of the season, forcing a 1–1 draw after Obafemi Martins' goal. Fletcher notched his second goal of the season opening the scoring from close range against Portsmouth, following a pass from Patrice Evra. He was later shown a yellow card on the 93rd minute before the match ended 1–0. On 3 October 2008, Fletcher signed a three-year extension to his contract with Man Utd, keeping him at the club until 2012. Fletcher notched his third goal of the season against Everton on 25 October. He then scored in the Club World Cup semi-final against Gamba Osaka on 18 December after coming off the bench.
In the Champions League semi-final second leg against Arsenal on 5 May 2009, Fletcher was shown a red card ruling him out of the Champions League Final. There were calls for this decision to be overturned, but apart from mistaken identity, there is no appeal procedure for red cards in UEFA competition. Manchester United launched an appeal with UEFA to have the semi final red card overturned on 'compassionate' grounds on 7 May 2009, but this was rejected on 11 May. Then-Internazionale coach José Mourinho commented on Fletcher's absence: "Fletcher is more important than people think. His work in midfield, especially in the midfield 'wars', in crucial matches is very important. Man United will miss his pace and aggression in defensive actions: he 'eats' opponents in defensive transition. I believe Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are happy Fletch is not playing."
The 2009–10 season saw Fletcher consolidate his place in the heart of the United midfield, starting all of United's important games. He opened his scoring account for the season with a double in the first Manchester derby of the season, a memorable 4–3 victory for United, twice putting United ahead before Michael Owen scored in the sixth minute of added time. He was presented with the Barclays Man of the Match award for his performance. On 21 November 2009, Fletcher scored his third of the season, hitting a half volley from the edge of the area into the top corner giving United a 1–0 lead against Everton in a 3–0 win. This season also saw Fletcher and fellow midfielders Michael Carrick and Park Ji-sung deputise in defence due to an injury crisis that left Patrice Evra being the only fit regular in defence. They still managed to keep a clean sheet against West Ham United and concede only one goal against Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg in the Champions League. Fletcher was sent off during the match against Birmingham City on 9 January 2010 after two bookable offences. On 10 March, he scored the fourth goal in a 4–0 win in the second leg of United's last 16 Champions League tie with AC Milan, making the score 7–2 on aggregate. This was his first goal in the Champions League. Following this, Fletcher captained United for the first time in the league match against West Ham and was later confirmed as United's vice-captain. In April, Fletcher capped a successful season with selection in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year. On 9 May, the last day of the season, Fletcher scored the first goal of a 4–0 win at home to Stoke City.
Later years and illness
Fletcher made his first start of the 2011–12 season in United's first group stage match on 14 September 2011 in the Champions League away at Benfica, which ended in a 1–1 draw. This was Fletcher's first start for a number of months after being sidelined towards the end of the 2010–11 season with illness, revealed in December 2011 to be ulcerative colitis. He made his first Premier League appearance of the season four days later in a 3–1 home win against title rivals Chelsea. Fletcher maintained his place in centre midfield in the following Premier League games against Stoke and Norwich City. On 23 October, he scored the consolation goal in a 6–1 defeat to local rivals Manchester City, with a curling shot into the top corner.
Fletcher made his 300th career appearance for Manchester United on 5 November in a 1–0 home win against Sunderland. Fletcher scored United's second goal in a 2–2 draw with Benfica on 22 November in the Champions League. He met Patrice Evra's cross at the first attempt, which the goalkeeper got a hand to and he followed it up on the second attempt to score. Following this match, he announced that he would be taking an extended break from football following medical advice about his ongoing ulcerative colitis. He did not play again in the 2011–12 season.
On 14 August 2012, Fletcher came on as a second-half substitute, taking the captain's armband, for Manchester United against Aberdeen in Neil Simpson's testimonial. He played his first competitive match in ten months, coming on as a substitute for Paul Scholes in the 78th minute in Manchester United's 1–0 win over Galatasaray at Old Trafford in the Champions League. On 24 November, Fletcher scored his first goal since his illness, a header from a Wayne Rooney corner against Queens Park Rangers. On 17 January 2013, it was announced that Fletcher had undergone surgery aimed at resolving his condition, which would rule him out for the remainder of the season. The statement stressed that this was a "planned procedure undertaken at the optimal time" that required Fletcher to be in good health to be carried out. In his May 2013 retirement speech following his final match at Old Trafford as Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson wished Fletcher a speedy recovery and return to football. A week later, it was revealed that his surgery had been a success and that Fletcher was on course to return to football in July 2013.
On 15 December 2013, Fletcher made 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. Another substitute appearance followed in the 2–0 League Cup win against Stoke City on 18 December, and on 26 December 2013, Fletcher made his first league start for 390 days in a 3–2 win away to Hull City.
West Bromwich Albion
On 2 February 2015, Fletcher signed for West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer. He made his debut on 8 February 2015 against Burnley, where he was given the captain's armband. He scored his first goal for the club on 11 April 2015 against Leicester City, although the Baggies lost 3–2. Between his debut for West Brom in February 2015 and the international break of October 2015, Fletcher did not miss a minute's Premier League football, marking fully his comeback from several illness-disrupted seasons.
He scored his second goal for West Brom on 28 December 2015, in a 1–0 win against Newcastle United. Fletcher had to wait until the 2016–17 season for his next Premier League goal to come. It finally came in a 4–0 win against Burnley on 21 November 2016. He scored his second goal of the 2016–17 season on 21 January 2017, in a 2–0 win against Sunderland.
Fletcher established himself as a regular choice for Scotland during the 2003–04 season. He scored his first goal in a 1–0 win against Lithuania, having come off the bench for only his second cap. His goal took Scotland to the play-offs for UEFA Euro 2004. On 26 May 2004, he captained Scotland to a 1–0 friendly win against Estonia in Tallinn, making him the youngest Scotland captain since 17-year-old John Lambie in 1886. Fletcher scored with a 25-yard strike in a 3–0 win against Slovenia on 12 October 2005.
Fletcher was Scotland's vice-captain under Alex McLeish, deputising in the absence of regular captain Barry Ferguson. Fletcher was named as full-time captain in November 2009 when Ferguson was banned from international football for misbehaviour.
Fletcher earned his 50th cap in September 2010, in a UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying match against Liechtenstein. His bouts of illness interrupted his international career, which meant that Scott Brown assumed the captaincy. Fletcher was recalled to the international squad for a friendly against Poland in March 2014. He resumed the captaincy in September 2016, after Brown retired from international football.
- As of match played 21 January 2017
|Club||Season||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Europe||Other||Total|
|Manchester United||2002–03||Premier League||0||0||0||0||0||0||2||0||–||2||0|
|West Bromwich Albion||2014–15||Premier League||15||1||–||–||–||–||15||1|
- As of match played 11 November 2016
|Scotland national team|
- Manchester United
- Premier League (4): 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11,
- FA Cup (1): 2003–04
- Football League Cup (2): 2008–09, 2009–10
- FA Community Shield (3): 2007, 2008, 2010
- UEFA Champions League (1): 2007–08
- FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2008
- Kirin Cup (1): 2006
- Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year (1): 2002–03
- PFA Premier League Team of the Year (1): 2009–10
- Scotland national football team roll of honour inductee: 2010
- West Bromwich Albion Player of the Year (1): 2016
- ^ Omstein, David (5 February 2014). "Man United's Darren Fletcher explains ulcerative colitis illness". BBC Sport. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- McNulty, Phil (28 February 2010). "Aston Villa 1 - 2 Man Utd". BBC Sport. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- "Manchester United 1 Chelsea 1". MUFC Info. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- "Manchester United 0 Portsmouth 0". MUFC Info. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- "Manchester United 3 Chelsea 1". MUFC Info. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- "Japan 0 - 0 Scotland". BBC Sport. 13 May 2006. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- Bostock, Adam (4 May 2010). "De Laet's delight". ManUtd.com. Manchester United. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
- Percy, John (27 September 2016). "Darren Fletcher to be rewarded with new West Brom deal". Telegraph.co.uk. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
Fletcher was born and grew up in Mayfield, Midlothian, supporting Celtic. He is the father of twin boys, Jack and Tyler (born 2007) with his wife, Hayley Grice. The couple married in early June 2010.
Fletcher was one of many footballers in the Manchester and Liverpool area whose homes were burgled while playing away games; burglars raided his house in February 2009 and held Grice at knifepoint. The incident occurred while Fletcher was in Milan for Manchester United's Champions League fixture against Internazionale.
Fletcher's father was caught speeding in Fletcher's Range Rover on the M6 motorway in Cumbria on 27 November 2008. As the owner of the car, Fletcher was ordered to identify the driver of the car, but he failed to do so and was summoned to Penrith Magistrates' Court in January 2010. After a hearing, Fletcher received six penalty points on his driver's licence, a £650 fine and was ordered to pay £900 in costs.
Fletcher is involved in a programme to encourage "Deaf Friendly Football" for youngsters. The programme is run by the Manchester United Foundation and the National Deaf Children's Society.