Darren Fletcher has a big-time dilemma on his hands (and no, it’s not whether or not he should enter the Rick Schroeder Look-a-Like contest). Everton have targeted the Scottish national as one of their summer transfer priorities.
The conventional wisdom is that a move to Everton would afford Fletcher more playing opportunities. Like Phil Neville and Tim Howard before him, Fletcher has been unable to establish himself as a consistent first-teamer at Manchester United, and might decide that his future looks much better in blue than in red.
The grass might, indeed, be greener for Fletcher by going to Merseyside. It makes sense why Everton would be high on Fletcher. By going to Everton, Fletcher would immediately become one of their best players and a no-brainer starter for a club that looks to be on the rise. Under David Moyes, Everton has been one of the best managed clubs of the last few years (although Wayne Rooney would probably disagree), and threatened to break the top-4 logjam last season before fading to 5th.
Fletcher would be a great asset for a club that seemed to run out of gas at the end of the season. Additionally, with Aston Villa and Manchester City reloading their rosters with quality players, Everton will need to make significant upgrades if they want to hold on to that 5th spot. Chances are, if Moyes and company are convinced that Fletcher is their man, then he’ll get every chance to succeed.
Meanwhile, at Manchester United, Fletcher would, once again, struggle for playing time behind the likes of Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves, Anderson, and whomever else they bring in the off-season. While Fletcher got some high-profile starts last season (like the F.A. Cup tie with Arsenal where he scored twice or the loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge), he was usually the odd man out of a very crowded midfield.
Indeed, he only started 5 Premiership matches last season as Ferguson seemed to favor a midfield pairing of Carrick and Scholes. Fletcher’s dip in playing time, especially on the heels of a solid 2006/2007 season where he made 16 Premiership starts (including big-game starts against Arsenal and Liverpool), and started in the F.A. Cup final against Chelsea, would seem to indicate that his standing at Manchester United is getting worse, not better.
However, there are a number of compelling reasons for him to stay at Old Trafford. For one thing, Sir Alex Ferguson clearly likes Fletcher, even going as far as putting his fellow Scot in the same class as Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez, Anderson, and Nani when talking about all the young and emerging talent on the club.
Plus, his place on the Scottish national team doesn’t seem to be threatened by his lack of first-team action, so it’s not like he’ll be under pressure to go elsewhere in order to keep his place.
Additionally, for a guy who’s been as injury prone as Fletcher has been over the last few seasons, coming off the bench for another year while learning from the likes of Scholes, Hargreaves, Carrick, and Giggs and the other vets on the team might be good for him. Also, let’s face it, there are definite perks to being at a top club, not the least of which are Winner’s Medals, trophies, and debauchery-laden Christmas parties.
The main reason why Fletcher might be better off staying at Manchester United instead of going to a smaller club like Everton is that 2008/2009 is a brand new year. Sure, right now it’s either optimism or delusion to think that Fletcher might supplant Carrick or Scholes in the midfield hierarchy. Sure, Scholes is getting up there in years, and Anderson looks like his long-term replacement, but you never know how things will turn out.
Remember, at this time season, Wes Brown’s days at United looked numbered. He was never going to beat Gary Neville for the right-back spot and he wouldn’t be able to displace Rio and Vidic from the center-back positions either. Who knows? If Nevill had been healthy at the start of last season, Brown may have left this summer looking for a new club. Instead, Neville was out with a long-term injury and Brown turned in a fine season, establishing himself as United’s first-choice right-back especially with Neville’s days looking numbered (the same Brown who was replaced by John O’Shea at right-back at several times in the 06/07 season). Did Brown improve exponentially in the span of one year? Or was his “improvement” merely the result of consistent playing time? Maybe it was a little of both. Who knows?
Either way, it shows how quickly things can change. Just look at the upheaval at Manchester United over the last few years. Alan Smith went from being the next Roy Keane to being the next Ruud Van Nistelrooy to being the worst Newcastle United signing of the last few years (and that’s saying something). Rio Ferdinand went from being an immature, mistake-prone defender who may or may not have been hiding something when he missed his drug test to a respected pro and captain-in-waiting for both club and country. And, of course, the less said about Juan Sebastian Veron, the better. And that boy Ronaldo…
Is it possible for Darren Fletcher to become a mainstay in midfield for Manchester United? Absolutely. Maybe it isn’t probable. Heck, maybe it isn’t even likely. Maybe his long-term future does lie with a club like Everton or Newcastle United. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that he doesn’t have to move right now. He might as well stay put for another year and see if he can establish himself at Manchester United.
If he can’t establish himself, then there will still be suitors for him in a year’s time. If he can, then he can write his ticket anywhere, including a long-term deal at Old Trafford if he so desires. After all, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if he can make it there, then he can make it anywhere.