Paul Scholes: 'Fletch' departure severs another link to Fergie era
I can still recall the time Darren Fletcher arrived at Manchester United as a 15-year-old kid from Scotland with a big reputation. I played with him on the day he made his reserve team debut as a teenager and impressed us with his determination and his will to win.
You don't spend 16 years of your life at Old Trafford without a lot of talent and a strong personality.
'Fletch' left for West Brom on Monday, bringing to an end another one of those careers at United that has stretched all the way from the academy to the first team.
Along the way he has had to overcome some major challenges.
In his early years he took some stick before he established himself as a big part of the team and then, of course, there was his battle with ulcerative colitis which could so easily have ended his career.
First of all, Fletch is a great lad. He was a very popular figure in the United dressing-room. There was no nonsense from him. He said what he thought to people. He would take the mickey out of anyone. He got on with his team-mates.
Most of all he was an excellent footballer. No one at United got a free ride - not even if you happened to be Alex Ferguson's only Scottish player.
Fletch's greatest asset is his ability to get around the pitch. He has the strength and the speed to get to the opposition player in possession and win the ball.
I really enjoyed playing with Fletch. He is technically excellent, he can read the game and he is a superb team player. He never plays for himself. He did what was right for his team and got the best out of players around him.
For a good few years he became central to what the team did and there were so many Champions League nights when he was important to us.
He played very well in the run to the 2009 final and was then suspended for the game in Rome. By then he had already been diagnosed with his condition, although none of us knew.
I think his greatest performance for United was the 2004 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal. He was all over Patrick Vieira that day.
In more recent years, Fletch was fighting to recover from his condition and there were times when we saw him and wondered if he would ever come back.
He lost a lot of weight and was grey for certain periods. He would come back in for a training session and then not be able to take part in the next.
Having always known him as such an energetic and bubbly character, that was shocking to see.
No one would have blamed him if he had decided to call it a day. He took a while to make up his mind over whether to have the operation on his large intestine, which was a success and put him on the road to a comeback two years ago.
I know that the support of the manager was so important to him over that time.
When you are injured or ill for a long period of time, the question on your mind is first, "Will I come back at all?" And then you find yourself wondering, "If I do come back, will I be the same?"
I never dwelt on that second question. My feeling was that you did your best but that, ultimately, you could never control these things.
Fletch's experience with ulcerative colitis was horrendous.
The closest I got to a career-ending condition was a dispersed blood clot on my eye that clouded my vision. I suppose the fact that today I am not sure which eye it affected - the left one, I think - tells you that the problem has gone away.
I first recognised it when I was playing a game at Birmingham City in December 2005 and looked up into one of the floodlights. My vision just went in that affected eye.
I also suffered from migraines at the time so I assumed it was related to that.
Looking back, I should really have told the manager that I needed to come off, but I never liked doing that. The next time the ball came over to me I looked up and saw three footballs instead of one. I thought, 'Sod it, I'll just hit the middle one'.
The doctors told me that I was not to do any physical exercise for six months.
I didn't play again until the start of the next season and because I wasn't allowed to do any running I had to get back into condition first.
My condition was nothing like as bad as what Fletch went through. He missed two years as a United footballer, with all that that entails - being away from his team-mates, playing games at Old Trafford and winning the Premier League title in 2013.
I won't be the only United fan looking out for West Brom's results from now on this season, and wishing the best to a former team-mate who never gave up - whatever the challenge. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service