DARREN Fletcher hopes to repay a year of unstinting support from Scotland manager Gordon Strachan by making his international comeback in next month's friendly in Poland.
Fletcher's return for Manchester United over the past seven weeks has put him on course for a place in the squad for Scotland's first game of 2014, a friendly in Poland on March 5.
Fletcher expressed his gratitude to Strachan yesterday after the manager helped maintain his morale while he battled back from ulcerative colitis, the serious bowl condition which kept him out of the United team for almost a year. Fletcher, who turned 30 last week, has played eight recent games under United manager David Moyes and seems sure to return for his first Scotland cap in 15 months. That would be the 62nd of his career but the first since Strachan took over a year ago.
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"I've not played under Gordon yet but he's been in constant contact with me," said Fletcher at United's Carrington training ground. "He's been his enthusiastic, sprightly self throughout it all since he's become manager.
"Every few weeks I've had phone-calls which have been very interesting to say the least. They've been very inspirational and funny, everything about him has been great. He's taken a real keen interest and is always reiterating that he wants me back, which gave me great confidence.
"He's not someone I know well, I've only met him at a few matches and had five-minute conversations here and there. But the relationship has definitely built up, albeit over the phone, during the last year."
Fletcher was speaking at an event to launch United for Colitis, an initiative to raise awareness for the illness which at one point threatened his playing career. It also effectively ended his hopes of reaching 100 caps. "It's something I would always have liked to have achieved but I don't know if that's going to be possible now. The biggest things for me now is playing an international tournament. That's my aim. To get back playing for Scotland and to play in a squad that played in a major tournament.
"I don't want my next call-up to be a token gesture. That wouldn't mean anything for me, getting picked if I was hardly playing for Manchester United. It wouldn't be right getting called up to play for Scotland if that were the case. But I feel I've done well in the games I've played and hopefully I play a few more times before the squad is announced. Then, if I get in the squad, I need to impress in training. I may have to wait for my chance, I may just get in the squad and sit on the bench but I'm prepared for that. I just need to impress the new manager like everyone else and I'm more than willing to do that because that's what being part of a football squad is all about."
Strachan will name his squad for the Warsaw friendly in the next two weeks.
"I'm back playing for Man United so hopefully I've done enough to impress Gordon. I've been watching the team do well, but also grinding out results, too, which is important. As a player, you want to be part of something successful and I've always
been desperate to get back playing
"The fact it's going well I just hope
I don't ruin things. I went to one squad [gathering] but it was difficult. I was battling to get back and it wasn't possible for me
to go at times. It was as simple as that.
I sat with the lads but you don't want to
be a hindrance. But it was more that I wasn't physically able to go."