Vogts prepared to wait for Fletcher

Phil Gordon
Sunday 23 March 2003 01:00

From Manchester United to Iceland. It is a journey that one Old Trafford pin-up is already embarking on, but not Darren Fletcher.

The 19-year-old Scot could not have chosen a more timely moment to announce his promise than the week when one of his predecessors in red, Lee Sharpe, revealed his next team will be Grindavik in the Icelandic league.

Sir Alex Ferguson is not inclined to make the same mistake twice. Having watched Sharpe win an England cap at 19 and help end decades of failure by bringing the title to United, the subsequent career burn-out which has taken him to a fishing port on the north Atlantic is one reason why United's manager is not endorsing Fletcher for a Scotland call-up.

He is thinking about his country's interests as much as his own. Fletcher's audacious displays in the Champions' League games against Basle and Deportivo La Coruña hinted he would not be out of his depth if he was thrown in against Iceland at Hampden Park next Saturday in a vital European Championship qualifying match. Scotland must follow up their success in Reykjavik last October – and beat fellow minnows Lithuania four days later – to sustain them until they meet the big fish in the pool, Germany, in June.

As ever injuries are starving Berti Vogts of players, but he agrees with Ferguson that Fletcher – who Gary Neville described as having the best European debut of any player since David Beckham – should be nurtured carefully.

"Darren is one of the biggest talents in Britain but we need to be careful," said the Scotland manager. "He was injured for a long time and is only just starting back. But the fact that he is now in the United team is good for us, and he is not far away from the squads."

Vogts revealed that Roy Keane had been trawling for Fletcher on the Republic of Ireland's behalf, but he has warned Ferguson to put an exclusion zone around him.

Fletcher's case sums up the dilemma for Vogts. He has emerging players, most notably Shaun Maloney at Celtic (left in the Under-21 squad again), but he is keen that they develop at their own pace. Yet, in the interim, he and Scotland require results. The hope is that they can scramble their way to Euro 2004, where they may find Fletcher and Maloney ready to join them.

Meanwhile, the gap will probably be plugged next Saturday by another who is only just recovering from falling to earth after a rapid ascent. Kenny Miller will partner Steve Crawford up front, in the absence of Don Hutchison (unfit) and Steven Thompson (suspended). Miller was a teenage sensation at Hibernian, Rangers then paid £2m for him at 20, only to underuse him and sell him to Wolves, where this season he has netted 19 times.

Vogts sees a bit of devilment in Miller's play that reminds him of Gerd Müller, his former German team-mate. "People complained about Gerd's technique, too, but he had a goalscorer's instinct and Miller has that," he said.

However, it is not doppelgängers that concern him, it is ersatz Scots. After the passionless display in the friendly defeat by the Irish last month – Vogts said he knew his team were beaten when he saw them failing to sing the anthem – the manager has written to every player.

"I told them, 'You have to do something more for your team and country', and much more than we did against the Irish. We have a chance to qualify, but you have to run and fight. No ifs and buts, we have to beat Iceland."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments