DARREN Fletcher and Steven Fletcher have the following in common:
they both play football in the Barclays Premier League and for Scotland. That seems to be about all, apart from the obvious.
It would be wrong to say the disgusting story about Steven Fletcher at the weekend was predictable or typical of him. For those who missed it, Fletcher was reported to have filmed himself spitting on the back of a rickshaw driver who was taking him on a night out, before posting the footage on his Instagram account accompanied by a moronic and insulting comment. According to The Sunderland Echo, Fletcher later denied it. If he was collecting unsavoury newspaper headlines then he had a cracking weekend.
Loading article content
There was another tale in which a woman claimed Fletcher sent her 70 texts and sex tapes of himself and pleaded with her to send a clip of herself in return. Fletcher denied that one as well.
Again, it's worth pointing out that Steven Fletcher has not got a track record for the sort of cretinous, ignorant behaviour evident in those two stories, especially the particularly loathsome rickshaw episode. But another way to look at it would be like this: if 100 random football supporters were told part of the story and asked which of the two Fletchers was being accused of it, how many would say Darren?
Almost certainly none. The Manchester United man's reputation and professionalism are exemplary.
Tonight the Fletchers might share a pitch. United take on Sunderland in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Old Trafford. Sunderland are 2-1 up from the first leg and turning the tie around matters most of all to a third Scotsman, namely the one sitting in the home technical area, United manager David Moyes.
But the two Fletchers likely to be out on the pitch are in the opening weeks of a hugely important year in both of their careers.
Darren is being slowly eased back into the first team after almost exactly a year out because of the ulcerative colitis which had threatened to end his career prematurely. He has made seven appearances since the middle of December. United are being judicious in their use of him - often he has come on or off in a substitution - but it was heartening to see him complete two full 90 minutes, both against Swansea in the FA Cup and then in the league.
He was an unused substitute in the weekend defeat to Chelsea. The player who partnered Michael Carrick in his absence, Phil Jones, was criticised for being dilatory in his closing down of Chelsea's midfielders during the 3-1 loss. That aspect of the play is one of Fletcher's great strengths. A partnership of Fletcher and Carrick is the best central duo at Moyes's disposal.
United need him at his best sooner rather than later and so, too, do Scotland. Fletcher, remember, has not kicked a ball for his country since before Gordon Strachan became manager a year ago.
If his careful return continues, and both he and United's medical staff are comfortable with it, he can expect to be involved in the first international squad of the year for the friendly in Poland on March 5.
Darren Fletcher has shown what he can offer at international level. The same cannot yet be said of Steven. Currently it is the midfielder who has the (marginally) better scoring rate between the two of them, not the forward being held up as the country's best hope for goals in the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Darren has scored five times in 61 appearances, Fletcher only once in 13 (and that came against Iceland almost five years ago, before his self-imposed exile under former manager Craig Levein). Given that Darren is not known for his goalscoring, the comparison reflects poorly on his younger colleague.
The Sunderland striker has been linked with Celtic, Hull City and Tottenham this month. The club has indicated that if anyone wants him the bidding can start at £12m, the sum they paid to sign him from Wolves in 2012. Despite speculation that new manager Gus Poyet was not especially convinced about him, earlier this month he did sound enthusiastic about the strength, positional sense and finishing the 26-year-old added to his side.
Even so, Fletcher's form has been mediocre in recent weeks. Having missed the start of the season because of an ankle injury he has played 20 times since his return. So far he has only three goals to show for it, way down on the scoring rate which brought him 11 in 31 club appearances last season.
At the weekend, he was left out of the starting line-up against Southampton because of a niggling Achilles injury. Poyet played him for only the final 20 minutes. Instead of warming up with the other substitutes before the match he did so on a fitness bike indoors, and did seem to move freely when he eventually came into the game.
"The injury is fine, that's the only thing I can confirm," said Poyet yesterday. "We were very good with the way that we dealt with a little inflammation of the Achilles. Everything has settled. He trained yesterday and today, no problem. The Sunday news? I am not going to comment."