SCOTLAND captain Darren Fletcher last night received the best wishes of new national team manager Gordon Strachan as it emerged that he will miss the rest of the season after bowel surgery to resolve his ulcerative colitis condition.
After Manchester United confirmed the 28-year-old midfielder’s absence for the rest of the season, Strachan – who was unveiled as Craig Levein’s replacement at Hampden on Monday – offered his full support to the influential midfielder.
Strachan said: “On behalf of the Scotland supporters, the national squad and backroom team, I wish Darren the best of luck in his recovery from the surgery that has been confirmed by his club.
“I spoke with Darren on Tuesday and know that the decision to have the operation has been taken in the interests of his long-term health and with the full backing of the medical staff at Manchester United.
“Darren’s commitment and pride in playing for his country is an example to any professional footballer, as has been demonstrated by his availability for the recent World Cup qualifiers and the international against Luxembourg.
“I’m sure I speak for all Scotland fans when I say I hope that the operation allows Darren to overcome his condition and resume his role as a major influence for club and country in his own time. In the meantime, I have stressed to him that, as captain, he remains an integral part of the international set-up and that he is welcome to join up with the squad at any time during his recovery.”
While United stressed in a statement that the move is part of a “planned procedure”, they admit it is “frustrating” for the Fletcher who has made just two short substitute appearances since starting the Red Devils’ Barclays Premier League win at Reading on 1 December.
It is also a blow for the new Scotland coach, who will be deprived of Fletcher for World Cup matches against Wales and Serbia in March and Serbia in June. Of greater importance, of course, is Fletcher’s future well-being and United hope the corrective procedure will allow him to resume his career next season.
A statement from Old Trafford read: “Darren Fletcher will be unavailable for the remainder of this season having undergone surgery to resolve his ulcerative colitis condition.
“We wish to stress this was a planned procedure undertaken at the optimal time having achieved a period of sustained good general health, as illustrated by the fact that Darren has trained with the team regularly this season and been available for selection right up to the operation.
“Whilst it is frustrating for both Darren and the club that he won’t be able to contribute further during this campaign, this decision has been taken with our full support in the best interests of his long term health and we look forward to him returning next season with this problem firmly behind him. We would be grateful if his privacy could be respected at this time and in the coming months in order to aid his recuperation.”
Fletcher has been struggling with the problem since March 2011, although his extended absences from the United side were initially dismissed by Sir Alex Ferguson as a virus. United eventually confirmed the extent of the condition and confirmed he was going to take a full break.
Fletcher even missed pre-season training last summer to ensure his comeback was a success, making his reappearance as a substitute against Galatasaray in September. He returned to the first-team fray and the Reading game represented his third start in four games. H
owever, after another substitute appearance the following Wednesday against CFR Cluj, matches against Sunderland and Swansea - where he did not come off the bench - and Newcastle on Boxing Day, when he was introduced for the final minute for his 10th and final appearance of the campaign, he was not seen again.
When questioned about Fletcher’s absence at a time when matches were being encountered every three days, Ferguson said the pitches were too heavy for the Dalkeith-born player.
However, when he did not make the bench for Wednesday’s FA Cup tie with West Ham, when Ferguson made 10 changes to his starting line-up, it was obvious there was a more significant problem.
Now Fletcher, one of the most popular players in the United and Scotland dressing room, is once again facing an extended period on the sidelines - and question marks about his future.