Ferguson hails unsung Fletcher as model of true professionalism

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson has praised his Scotland midfielder Darren Fletcher as "a terrific example to any young player". The 24-year-old may not have the high profile of team-mates such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, but his Manchester United manager has held him up as an example of "a true professional".

Fletcher has been in and out of the side this season, such is the vast array of talent at Old Trafford. But he marked his return to action against Lyons on Tuesday with a sound, workmanlike performance in the engine room as United clinched a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Ronaldo's 30th goal of a memorable season was enough to end Lyons' resistance and secure a 2-1 aggregate victory. While the Portugal winger is in line for a number of personal awards, Ferguson turned his focus to Fletcher.

"Darren has shown he is a true professional," Ferguson said. "When you give people good contracts you hope they will become like that. He is a terrific example of a professional to any young player.

"I keep talking about Bobby Charlton's book, and his frustration when he was not in the team at 19 and had to be patient. Darren Fletcher epitomises that patience and now he's back in the squad and everyone recognises his abilities. It's a great credit to the lad."

Fletcher was picked ahead of Paul Scholes and the summer signing Owen Hargreaves on Tuesday and, having scored twice in the FA Cup demolition of Arsenal, he again rose to the challenge.

Ferguson said: "It was a big decision for me [to pick him] because Paul Scholes had put in a vintage performance at Fulham [where United won 3-0]. If the game had come a day later I would have played Scholes but decided not to, given the length of time he has been out injured, and his age.

"Darren came in and did a job very effectively. He's not an easy player to come up against – I wouldn't like to play against him. He closes down people so quickly and keeps his eye on the ball and tackles without conceding fouls."

United remain on course for the treble of European Cup, Premier League and FA Cup, a feat they previously achieved in 1999. The England defender Rio Ferdinand, who captained the side against the French league leaders, believes they have the quality to cope with a challenge on three fronts.

The quarter-final draw will be made a week tomorrow, but he is not concerned about which team they might face. Ferdinand said: "It is tough to win the competition every year and we are just happy to be in the next round.

"We are on a good run of form and you can see the determination to do well among the players. Long may that continue and see where it gets us. We are just taking it step by step. We have great numbers at the moment and a lot of quality. It is important we stay injury-free."

Ferguson's side equalled Juventus's Champions League record of 10 straight home victories set in 1997. Ferdinand, a losing semi-finalist with United last season and with Leeds in 2001, added: "You have to defend well as a team and take your chances when they come. We managed to do that against Lyons and got our rewards to secure the result we needed."

Ronaldo meanwhile says he is confident he can maintain his prolific scoring rate as United pursue the treble. The Portugal winger's goal on Tuesday night was his sixth in the competition. With two months of the season remaining, the remarkable possibility remains that he could break the 40-goal barrier, given his scoring ratio.

United have 10 league games to play in their attempt to retain the title and at least another two in Europe. The FA Cup is also on the agenda, with a home quarter-final tie to come against Portsmouth on Saturday.

Ronaldo, 23, has scored 12 goals in his last 12 appearances and took advantage of Lyons' failure to clear Anderson's effort with a clinical finish in the 41st minute.

Ronaldo said: "My colleagues help me a lot. The most important thing is to win games and trophies. I feel fine, I am in good shape and getting vital goals. I want to score more and help the side.

"Maybe we did not play that well against Lyons but we deserved the victory. Sometimes you do not play your best but you win. That is the important thing and we are through to the next round."

Now Ronaldo is looking forward to the next challenge that lies on the horizon this weekend.

He added: "We will need to be strong against Portsmouth as they are a good team and difficult to beat. But we have a good chance as we are at Old Trafford where we must win our home games."