JAMES Morrison has proved himself as adept a recruiting sergeant as he is a midfield general for West Bromwich Albion with his role in persuading Darren Fletcher to join the club.
Upon cutting his ties with Manchester United at the start of this month, Fletcher revealed that his Scotland team-mate Morrison had effectively “pestered” him into making the move to the Hawthorns.
Fletcher has hit the ground running at his new club, immediately being appointed captain by manager Tony Pulis. West Brom are unbeaten since Fletcher’s arrival, moving five points clear of the Premier League relegation zone and into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup in the process.
According to Morrison, no feathers were ruffled or eyebrows raised in the West Brom dressing room when the armband was handed to a newcomer. As Fletcher regains optimum form and fitness after seeing three years of his career badly disrupted by a debilitating ulcerative colitis condition, he is proving an inspiration to those around him.
“Some people are born captains, really,” says Morrison. “We have got a good bunch of lads at West Brom, so that respect for Darren was already there.
“It was up to the manager to change the captaincy and we got on with it. Darren has been great since he arrived and has settled in fantastically well. He has already been getting the lads together so he has done a good job so far.
“He hasn’t really changed things. He has just been himself. He leads the lads out, shouts orders and gets us up for games. When he has settled a bit more, then I’m sure he will further stamp his authority in terms of what he wants at the club.
“On the pitch, he brings so much experience and energy. Obviously, the players we have in the West Brom midfield are all experienced but I think Darren’s presence rubs off on the other lads. It gets us playing well.”
Morrison, who was speaking on behalf of Scotland team sponsor Vauxhall ahead of next month’s internationals against Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, breaks into a grin when asked how he managed to sell West Brom to Fletcher.
“I had my ways!” he says. “I just said it was a real family club with a great support. Basically it was all about the lads here and I knew he would fit in right away and he has. He’s enjoying it, he told me that himself. I also knew he would like the manager and he’s played a big part in it for Darren, too. Tony Pulis has done a great job so far.
“I’ve known Darren for a long time and I know what he’s all about. When I heard there was a chance of him leaving Manchester United, I was on the phone to him, trying to get him here. I want to play with good players and Darren is certainly that.
“Darren was at one of the best clubs in the world so it was a big coup for West Brom to get him. It just shows Darren just wanted to play football, although there were family reasons as well and stuff like that.
“He has got a load of caps and experience. He has played at the highest level. He is a real leader and a real gent and he’s got the respect of everyone in the squad. He leads by example and does everything right. That rubs off on all of us.”
Scotland will also hope to benefit from a revitalised Fletcher in the remainder of an ultra-competitive Euro 2016 qualifying group. Morrison is confident the 31-year-old will be at the top of his game again by the time Gordon Strachan’s men return to action at Hampden for the friendly against Northern Ireland on 25 March and the qualifier against Gibraltar four days later.
“I’ve been in Darren’s shoes, when you have a long lay-off, and it’s just games you need to get you back to where you were,” he says. “The more games Darren plays, the more his level will rise, as will his fitness and confidence. A fit Darren is a really good player.
“Your fitness drops when you’ve had a long lay-off but Darren will soon be charging about pressing the opposition like he did before. I know what type of character he is so I have no doubts about that. Just give him a few more games under his belt and he’ll be back to his best.”
With seven points from their first four games, the only defeat coming at the hands of world champions Germany, Scotland are determined to take nothing for granted against Group D minnows Gibraltar.
“We’ll prepare for them the same way we have for every game so far,” adds Morrison. “You can’t slack off because that’s when it bites you on the backside. You’ve got to be professional.
“It’s a good group we are in and a really tough one. We have done well so far, played some good stuff and everyone seems to be buzzing. But we are focused because we know we are not even halfway there and we want to finish the job. We’ve had a great start but that’s all it is. But I sense everyone is together and pulling in the right direction. That’s important.”
• To win the chance to play for your country in Vauxhall’s Scotland vs Northern Ireland fans game and win a pair of tickets to the main game at Hampden Park on 25 March go to www.vauxhallfootball.co.uk/scotlandfans
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