Vogts builds his vision on a young odd couple

Phil Gordon
Sunday 30 May 2004 00:00
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You could not get two more disparate characters than Darren Fletcher and James McFadden. One is so squeaky clean that he would be perfect headboy material at Hogwarts, while the other is simply Dennis The Menace come to life.

When McFadden secured his £1.5m move from Motherwell to Everton last August, the first thing he did was move his family out of their troubled neighbourhood in Glasgow and into his fashionable home on Merseyside. When Manchester United rewarded Fletcher with a lucrative new contract last season, he could have bought his family a new house in Edinburgh. His parents refused the offer and no one could be happier than Scotland's youngest captain in over a century.

Fletcher, 20, loves nothing better than swapping Old Trafford for Mayfield. When he returns to the corner of Scotland's capital where he grew up, Fletcher goes to the shops for his mother and plays football in the park with his childhood friends. Which will make today a special occasion for Fletcher. When he pulls on a Scotland shirt for just the eighth time in the friendly against Trinidad & Tobago, most of Mayfield will be there at Easter Road to see the local boy made good.

Fletcher and McFadden both continued their impressive international learning curve on Thursday night in Tallinn as Fletcher marked his baptism as captain with a 1-0 victory over Estonia, while McFadden supplied Scotland's goal for the third successive occasion.

The cry-offs that plagued Berti Vogts meant that the Scotland manager fielded a shadow side against Estonia and will repeat that for the encounter with Trinidad. But as Vogts continues his preparations for the World Cup qualifers this autumn, he knows that Fletcher and McFadden have already blossomed. "We don't have too many players in this country who can hurt teams with their flair and imagination, but James and Darren can," said Tommy Burns, the Scotland assistant manager.

While Fletcher has shown nothing less than the sort of diligence you would expect from Sir Alex Ferguson's star pupil, McFadden has soared and descended between genius and disinterest, mirroring his season at Goodison. Yet his audacious solo goals against Estonia, Romania and Holland add up to genuine optimism for Vogts.

"James is a one-off player in the modern era," reflects Burns. "He is someone you have to take on trust. He is exasperating. He can look disinterested and then bring a moment of magic. His confidence has been down recently because he has not been getting a game for Everton but he lit up the stadium with that goal against Estonia and in the last 15 minutes he was electrifying. He is a strong-willed boy but he is also a risk-taker with the ball and that attitude is priceless."

Fletcher, on the other hand, is the embodiment of maturity. "I actually felt less nervous than I did in any of my other games for Scotland," he said. "Being captain brought out my confidence but this game against Trinidad will be more special to me because it's in Edinburgh.

"When I go home, I'm just Darren, the young boy people have known for years, not a United player. When I'm in Manchester, I get stopped for autographs but here I walk down the road every morning to buy the papers and it's just 'Hi Darren, how are you doing?'. In the summer, I have kickabouts with my mates in the park. My family could have moved house but they are happy where they are because it is such a close-knit community. It will always be home to me."

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