Across the past 5 years, Darren Fletcher has been one of the best midfield players in the English Premier League and, prior to the diagnosis of his illness, arguably amongst the most influential in the world as part of Manchester United’s glorious league and European teams.
Although not blessed with the patience, passing range and skill of Xavi, Iniesta or Fabregas, the Scotland midfielder possesses a work rate, technique and ability to break up play which has always been a pre-requisite in counter attacking sides.
Fletcher seeks to break up play and then passes simply and effectively, having a huge influence on the Manchester United style of play; allowing players like Wayne Rooney, Nani and Ryan Giggs to break with devastating effect.
In the wake of the announcement that he has taken an ‘extended break’ from football as he recovers from ulcerative colitis, Manchester United and Scotland are posed with the challenge of finding a replacement.
It is not an easy task for Sir Alex Ferguson, with the many millions of pounds to spend on world class players. It is an even more difficult challenge for Scotland Manager Craig Levein; picking from the shallow pool of Scottish players available to him, and an even smaller group of effective defensive midfielders.
So who can come in to replace Fletcher?
To put it bluntly, no-one!
Scotland has no direct replacement for an influential, industrial and inspirational midfielder who has played at the very highest level. Despite the emergence and form of Adam, Naismith, Forrest and Bannan, it is Fletcher’s Makelele-like ability to shield and provide the solid foundation for teams to counter.
Fletcher may not have regularly replicated his Manchester United form with Scotland, but when he was on top form, demonstrated in the games against Spain and the Czech Republic, Scotland found a rhythm that has been lacking for the past 14 years.
If he returns, then Scotland’s footballing future will look brighter again. If he doesn’t then we can think about Qatar or Russia, but no Fletcher means no chance of any Scottish samba in 2014!