Sport Soccer

Sunday 18 March 2018

Fletcher makes case for villified 'anti-footballers'

Mark Ogden in Philadelphia

There is no such thing as an anti-footballer. It is merely a bogeyman figure that stalks the nightmares of those football romantics who continue to endure sleepless nights as a result of the most brutal World Cup final in living memory.

It is a controversial theory following Holland's treatment of Spain's flair players as South Africa 2010 ended like a bar-room brawl, but as the original 'anti-footballer', it is one that Darren Fletcher is keen to promulgate.

The World Cup will be recalled as the tournament when magic was overcome by muscle, and Fletcher -- preparing for Manchester United's assault on the new Premier League season on their tour of North America -- was a frustrated onlooker, as Scotland captain.

But with Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong having been castigated for their unsympathetic treatment of the twinkle-toed players of Brazil and Spain, Fletcher admits he is bemused by the growing move to criticise those whose talent is to destroy rather than create.

Less than 12 months ago, he earned his anti-footballer branding amid Arsene Wenger's criticism of his display during United's 2-1 victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford, but the 26-year-old suggests the label should be viewed as a badge of honour.

"This 'anti-footballer' term seems to have come about because of me!" Fletcher says. "But a physical style of play has always been part of football and the reaction to the World Cup final has been blown out of proportion.

"There are different ways to win games and that defensive-midfield role is almost a specified position since Claude Makelele made it famous.

"Now every team seems to have one. Javier Mascherano, Van Bommel, De Jong -- their job is to break up the play, sometimes to commit a tactical foul to stop the other team counter-attacking, to win the ball back and give it to the flair players and match-winners.

"It's all part and parcel of football. Looking back at the World Cup final, yes Holland played their part, but Spain committed as many tactical fouls through Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso.

"Tackling is part of the game, especially the British game where fans love players showing commitment by trying to win the ball back. The day you don't see it in the British game will be a real shame."

If United are to bounce back from last season's failure to win a fourth successive title, Fletcher's role will be key.

With Owen Hargreaves once more sidelined through injury and concerns over the progress of Anderson, Fletcher has now emerged as one of United's most important players. And he admits that he has no intention of altering his way of playing, insisting that his style of football is as just as important as that of Wayne Rooney or Dimitar Berbatov.

Fletcher said: "You need different components to make a team. It's not necessarily about your star players. It's always the team that wins the league. Yes, you need your individuals, but you also need everyone pulling in the same direction and we have that.

"We have players willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team.

We have the experience of Giggs, Scholes, Neville and Van der Sar; we've got Rooney, Berbatov, Antonio Valencia and Nani who can create and score goals.

"Then you have the rest of the players who know their role in the team, who are willing to work hard for the team and who are willing to sacrifice for the team.

"People always speak about us losing Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, but Antonio Valencia has come in, Nani will step up to the plate and other players will improve. That's the way this club is."

Alex Ferguson's reluctance to spend big this summer has left United appearing short of top-quality cover, but Fletcher claims that the nature of their squad ensures they can always rely on somebody to fill a gap.

He said: "Last season, me and Michael Carrick had to play three games in central defence.

"I'd have liked to have seen Chelsea play with Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack as centre-halves. It wasn't great and it was detrimental to the season. We had a fantastic squad, but even that couldn't cope with the amount of injuries we had. Hopefully we won't have the same injury crisis we had last year." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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