"I'd much rather see an 18 year old local lad have his squad place and a crack at the team." Me, Redcafe, January 2007. "Who cares, there are thousands of Fletcher's out there... If he stays, he'll play very little." Me, again, Redcafe, November 2007. Darren bloody Fletcher. Few players have caused such division amongst fellow reds in recent years. Some claim he's been a magnificent player since his introduction to the side, born to play in a United shirt, always turns up for the big games. Others think he's been a liability, picked because he's the same nationality as his gaffer, even alleging a blood heritage between the too. Jokingly perhaps, but amongst a surprisingly large portion of supporters - at a club renowned for treating their players past and present extremely well - there existed an air of cynicism regarding his selection. The criticism wasn't limited to supporters either. Roy Keane, the man often cited as the type of player Darren could never become, once allegedly claimed in an un-broadcast 2005 MUTV interview which hastened his exit from the club: "I can't understand why people in Scotland rave about Darren Fletcher". The remarks were later qualified ("If you listen to any of my comments over the last two or three years, if I've given any player credit over the years it would be Fletch. Fletch will tell you that himself."), but at the time his comments held a certain credibility, perhaps a little close to the bone for Ferguson's liking. A club legend, at the tail end of his career admittedly, was sent packing. Young Darren continued to receive his chances in the Manchester United first team. Perhaps the divide over Fletcher started right at the beginning of his United career. Picked up from Tynecastle Boys Club, signing professional terms with United in 2001, 'those in the know' considered Fletcher to be a top prospect, a shoe in for future first team action. High expectations, but his early development was hampered by reoccurring injuries, originating from a foot problem picked up playing for Scotland U16's on an artificial pitch. His debut eventually came aged 19 in the Champions League second group phase clash against FC Basle. The game had little riding on it, United having already won their four preceding contests. Fletcher started the game, notable for a rare strike from Gary Neville which earnt United a point. He made one further appearance in the campaign. In his breakthrough 2003/04 season, he started more games than the scintillating new £12million signing Cristiano Ronaldo. But his performances were largely considered hit and miss. Any young player needs time to develop of course, but Fletcher's scrawny physique really seemed to count against him. That his inclusions largely came on the right side of midfield, the position recently vacated by the exceptional David Beckham, didn't help matters. I remember attending Old Trafford back then, and for the first time hearing significant pockets of supporters really going after their own players, particularly Richardson and Fletcher. It was a relatively frustrating few years for United, as Arsenal went the season unbeaten, and the new Abramovich / Mourinho era bore fruit. Supporter patience with their own sometimes wore thin, and Fletcher often bore the brunt of it. Yet Fletcher had his staunch supporters too, including Sir Alex of course, who selected the player over a hundred times during those title-less seasons. He scored the winner against Chelsea, the first time a Ferguson side triumphed over Mourinho's, ending their 40 match unbeaten run. He racked up notable performances, particularly against Arsenal on several occasions, and was often favoured for European contests. He began to play more often as a central midfielder, perhaps due to a lack of other options than anything. Still, not everyone was convinced, including myself, as the comments at the top of the page indicate. Jump to the present day. Wigan away, August 2009. Darren Fletcher comes back into the team after a limp United performance away at Burnley, where the Champions lose to the smallest town to have been promoted to the top flight since the Premiership era began. Yet another impressive performance, United thrash Wigan 5-0, Fletcher at the heart of it. The argument is no longer about whether or not the lad is good enough to play for United. Rather, there is credible debate regarding whether he is the best midfielder at the club, period. What changed? Personally, I view the start of the 2008/09 season as the real turning point. The previous season was perhaps Fletcher's nadir in a United shirt. He failed to start a United game until the end of December, a thumping away victory against Sunderland. He played more consistently from that point on, and injury curtailed his season somewhat, but only eleven first team starts in all competitions tells it's own story. But as the new season began, notably without the now talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo, United stuttered. Yet Fletcher impressed, scoring in the opening two games, to claim a point against Newcastle, and take all three away at our bogey fixture, Portsmouth. He looked fitter and stronger than any previous season. And more than anything else, his performances were consistent. A poor Darren Fletcher game that season was a collectors item. There will always be arguments about whether Fletcher deserved repeat selection on the strength of his performances back in his earlier United days. But what can't be questioned any more is that the faith shown in him by Sir Alex has paid off. He may never be Roy Keane - frankly who is? - but he doesn't have to be Roy Keane. He has to be the best Darren Fletcher he possibly can. He needs to continue putting in quality performances, and running United's midfield, especially as the influence of club legends such as Scholes and Giggs wanes towards the latter end of their careers. And of course, he needs to continue to make those who doubted him, like myself, look very silly indeed. Darren bloody Fletcher eh!