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Premier League

Fletcher happy he stayed at Manchester United

Darren Fletcher knows now he made the right decision to stick with Manchester United - but last summer the choice was not so easy.

As any former United star would acknowledge, after leaving Old Trafford the only way is down.

Arguably David Beckham might be the exception that proves the rule but most Red Devils old boys who go on to achieve success do so at a lower level than they experienced before.

And even Beckham, for all the plaudits he received at Real Madrid and, now, with AC Milan, has not added another Champions League to the medal he won in 1999.

It was that thought that was fizzing through Fletcher's mind during a pivotal meeting with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, balancing out the knowledge the Scot had started on only 10 occasions in all competitions last term.

"People might say you are silly and that if United are offering you a contract why are you thinking about going," Fletcher told the Manchester Evening News.

"People were telling me I'd be stupid to go, but I am a footballer and I want to play. So I had a decision (to make) that was right for me and my family.

"I didn't want to be going home to my girlfriend in a bad mood because I hadn't been playing. You have to sit down and think about your future sometimes.

"Although it's great to be at United and winning things you also want to feel as though you have done something and played a big part in achieving that success.

"I didn't want to tie myself into a long contract if I was only going to be playing for 10 games a season."

Not for the first time in his United career, Ferguson asked Fletcher to consider the bigger picture and ask himself whether he could imagine playing in what constituted a big game with a lesser club.

Even at boyhood heroes Celtic, the four guaranteed Old Firm games a year can take on a rose-tinted hue when put alongside a midweek trip to Inverness or Kilmarnock.

In the end, Fletcher decided to stay and has duly been rewarded with 26 appearances this season, the latest of which came in the win over Everton on Saturday.

"The boss assured me I was needed and I was a vital asset and there were different qualities I could bring to the midfield," he said.

"Of course there wasn't a guarantee that I would definitely play more matches. He cannot guarantee you that but I just thought I'd give it another go. I believe I can do it and that is my attitude. It was a good decision."

John O'Shea is another who fits into the same category, although the Republic of Ireland star could well lose his place at West Ham on Sunday as Patrice Evra is likely to return from a foot injury.

Wayne Rooney is also due back after hamstring trouble, which in theory at least will put the striker in line to face Spain for England next Wednesday.

However, Ferguson will almost certainly speak with England boss Fabio Capello, if not to advise the Italian not to pick Rooney, then to ration his time on the pitch.

As has been the case recently, almost as much attention has been paid to events elsewhere and the United boss was no doubt relieved to see his side's FA Cup fifth-round opponents settled at the City Ground last night.

It means only a draw between United and Derby at Pride Park on February 15 can prevent the second of their outstanding Premier League games, against Fulham, taking place at Old Trafford three days later.

That will bring the Red Devils level with their rivals for the first time since August, although their game against Portsmouth, scheduled for February 28, has been postponed due to the Carling Cup final meeting with Tottenham at Wembley 24 hours later.