Fletcher and Park – Tireless twosome getting recognition they deserve
By Jason Mathias.
Darren Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park. Two names you are unlikely to shell out extra pennies for to have on the back of your shirt. But their importance to Manchester United becomes more obvious with every week. And it’s never been more clear than yesterday when Fletcher crossed for Park head home Manchester United’s winner against fierce rivals Liverpool. Fletcher was named Man of the Match by Sky, and Park took most of the plaudits in the papers (not least because of his more headline-friendly name). It’s a recognition that has been long overdue.
The pair seem to have been assigned a title not too flattering in football – ‘workhorse’. Basically, they run around and hassle the opposition, not giving them more than one touch to play. It’s the type of player that the club’s fans can praise to their mates until they’re blue in the face, but they’ll rarely get anything other than disagreement in return. Often some of the loudest cheers in matches come when the workhorse flies around and gets a block in, even if it only leads to a goal kick. We love to see it. For me it’s one of few reasons why Carlos Tevez was so popular when he was at Manchester United. And for a team with the levels of individual skill and influence as United, they play a key role in the team’s dynamic. Using their boundless energy to keep the tempo quick is a trait that goes unnoticed but it’s aspects of the game like this that can change the team performance immeasurably.
But Fletcher and Park are not merely ‘workhorses’. The rise and rise of Darren Fletcher is something few Manchester United fans would have ever seen coming 2 seasons ago. He was out of the team and failed to make an impression when he did come in. The fact that he has recovered from this to be United’s first choice centre midfielder is a testament to his character and desire. It’s this ethos that is implanted in any young player’s mind in the Manchester United academy. Growing up with the likes of Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs, and of course Sir Alex Ferguson, means that there is no room for any kind of lackadaisical approach. Keane famously poured scorn over Fletcher and others in an MUTV interview which was never aired, stating that he didn’t know why people in Scotland raved over him. You get the feeling with Fletcher that any criticism he receives is channelled positively to make him mentally stronger.
Fletcher’s talent has always been there. He was scheduled to become Man Utd’s youngest ever Premier League player at the age of 16 but got injured prior to the match. Even in his early years in the team when he was met with much derision by fans, he still played in the big games, particularly excelling in the FA Cup Semi-Final win over Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ in 2004. After coming through his sticky patch at United he is now established as a genuine midfielder of the highest calibre. In addition to his work rate, Fletcher has all the attributes of a top midfielder – accurate tackling, incisive passing, great positional sense and above all a desire to never give up and drive the team on. Arsene Wenger’s ludicrous ‘anti-football’ rant in reference to Fletcher after Arsenal lost to United at Old Trafford this season has now been made to look more foolish than it was at the time.
You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. A phrase befitting Fletcher’s importance. His absence in the Champions League Final last season was strongly felt. Against the passing side of Barcelona, his energy was sorely required to limit the time given to the likes of Xavi and Iniesta. A common statistic after the match yesterday was that Fletcher missed the last 3 meetings against Liverpool, all of which were defeats for United. Who knows how different the results would have been if he had been available. What is certain is that with Paul Scholes’ glittering career dwindling down and Anderson’s inconsistencies, Fletcher will be a main staple of the team for years to come.
When Ji-Sung Park was signed from PSV in 2005 for a modest £4million, many wondered if the signing was a commercial one rather than a football one. But Sir Alex saw something in him after watching his PSV team reach the semi-final of the Champions League and took the plunge. While Park hasn’t yet managed to become a mainstay of the first team like Fletcher, he has proved to be a brilliant option for the boss depending on the game.
Park’s lack of acknowledgement in football circles is mainly down to his main traits as a footballer, in that most of his good work comes off the ball. Whenever Sir Alex is asked to discuss Park, he never fails to mention his ability to both find and create space. His recent role at club level as an attacking midfielder is ideally suited to this. He can find the gaps between midfield and defence and create uncertainty. But if he is played as a winger, his floaty nature means the full backs can bomb forward and add another dimension to the attack. This is particularly evident when Park is played on the left with his close friend Patrice Evra. Park cutting inside leaves the entire left flank free for Evra to use his attacking instincts. Of course his main asset is his incredible stamina, something which has earned him a rather brilliant nickname: ‘Three Lung Park’.
After playing starring roles in nullifying Roma and Barcelona on the way to the 2008 Champions League final, Park was left out of the 18-man squad for the final, in a decision that Sir Alex admits was one of the hardest he has had to make in his entire managerial career. But Park persevered and was rewarded with a starting place in the 2009 final. Much like Fletcher, he showed great determination to fight back from his disappointment and ensure it didn’t happen again.
And therein lies the secret of making it as a Manchester United player. Yes you must have enough talent to be signed, but it is desire and maintaining the United mentality which keeps you there for years on end. Just ask Juan Sebastian Veron. And while they may not rival Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs for glamour, Darren Fletcher and Ji-Sung Park are a crucial component of the Manchester United machine and will continue to be for the rest of this season as United chase a 4th consecutive Premier League and 3rd consecutive Champions League final.
Do you think Fletcher and Park deserve more praise? Would you like them in your team? Please leave your comments below…
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