Sir Alex Ferguson's efforts reminding Cristiano Ronaldo of his contractual obligations were more than enough work for one summer, but the Manchester United manager declared yesterday that the biggest accomplishment of the close season was persuading Darren Fletcher to stay at Old Trafford.
Ferguson admitted that many clubs were seeking to capitalise on a feeling that Fletcher wanted more than the 16 league games United were able to offer him last season, with Everton among those thought to have been interested. "A lot of clubs were trying to buy him," he said. "Fletcher signing a new contract has probably been the relief of the season for us."
The ligament injury Paul Scholes sustained in Denmark and OwenHargreaves' struggle with tendinitis have underlined the point, though Fletcher's own form, capped by a performance better than any of his team-mates at Everton on Saturday and a third goal of the season there, has added to it. "He had one year left on his contract and he wanted more football than he got last season," Ferguson said. "I said to him, 'You were brought up at this club, you've got to recognise that we were playing you in all the big games last season until you got an injury in February'."
That injury kept him out for about a month, but when he returned Fletcher played in some of United's most significant games, including against Chelsea away from home in the league and Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final at Old Trafford. He was on the bench for the final in Moscow. "He played in all the big games and I think that convinced him to stay. Now, with the injuries we've had, we're seeing he's such an important player for us. He's developing and improving his game and taking it to a new level," Ferguson added. "I could easily have made that consideration [that he could go], simply because with so many central midfielders in Hargreaves, Carrick, Scholes and Anderson it would have been very easy. But Darren's a United player and in big games he's outstanding."
Fletcher is likely to start again when West Ham arrive at Old Trafford tonight with Michael Carrick probably on the bench as he completes his recuperation from the broken foot he sustained at Anfield last month.
Ferguson said that Liverpool's win at Chelsea on Sunday was "the result I wanted", overlooking his earlier claim that the game would be a draw when he said that he had "fancied Liverpool" to win. "We have a table at the club where everyone predicts the scores – and I had 1-0 to Liverpool. Mind you, I'm still bottom of the table."