Gordon Strachan has paid fulsome tribute to Scotland captain Darren Fletcher as he prepares to make his 75th appearance for his country tonight, hailing him as the perfect role model for aspiring young international players.
Fletcher will reach the latest landmark of his Scotland career in the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Hampden which will also see him wear the captain’s armband for the 30th time.
The West Bromwich Albion midfielder, who has reclaimed leadership of the team following Scott Brown’s retirement from international football, has firmly re-established himself in Strachan’s plans following a period when the manager admits he was uncertain how the 32-year-old would recover from the chronic bowel condition which sidelined him for more than a year and threatened to end his career.
Strachan expressed his admiration for both the way Fletcher dealt with that “crisis point” and the understated and faultlessly professional manner in which the former Manchester United player has consistently conducted himself.
During the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Fletcher started just two matches but never complained about his situation and continued to report for every squad gathering.
“Did we expect anything less from Darren?,” reflected Strachan. “You can never write players off but I did know that there were going to be challenges for him. But he has accepted those challenges. These are the challenges that you get in life which make you stronger and then when you go into management, you have been to these places and you can tell people what it is all about.
“You have these crisis points in your career – and he has had a few – then you deal with them. What you see now is a guy getting his 75th cap and looking as healthy as anyone. I don’t think he has missed a game for West Brom since he signed for them last year.
“I will leave that to other people to decide whether he is an all-time Scotland great but I am just glad he is here. He is a great player but he is also a great lad and that is the most important thing.
“If I was still a footballer, I would want my team-mates to speak highly of me more than anything else. If you asked Darren’s team-mates, then I think they would tell you he is an all-time great lad.
“There are great examples for kids now if they want to see them, if they can see them through the nonsense that is thrown in front of their faces.
“There is not a tattoo on Darren’s body, he doesn’t walk about with big headphones on, he hasn’t got a cockatoo hairstyle and he doesn’t wear outrageous shoes. He just wants to play football. He is a smashing advert for any kid. He is great for us because you just need to see him walking about.
“He is a fantastic role model for the younger players in our squad. I don’t think there has ever been a negative headline about Darren. He never causes any problems.
“All Darren wants is to be a football player, he doesn’t want to be a celebrity. He isn’t tweeting, he isn’t on Instagram, you don’t see his face in silly positions every now and then.
“It isn’t really that difficult for young players to do the same. You have the examples to follow, which one do you want to be? If the first thing you want to be is a good footballer, then you become a good team-mate – that is what Darren is.
“If you can be a great player, fantastic. If you can be a great player and a great team-mate, then you’ve cracked it. Or you can go along the TOWIE route. There are examples out there and it’s about which ones you choose.”