Darren Fletcher has become a major force in the Manchester United midfield over the past couple of years. He'll lead the Red Devils as they embark on a two-week tour of North America, which concludes at the 2010 AT&T MLS All-Star Game on July 28 in Houston. MLSsoccer.com's editor-in-chief Greg Lalas had a chat with Fletcher, and the pair discussed American soccer, the Scottish national team, and the legendary club itself, Manchester United.
MLSsoccer.com: How is MLS and American soccer perceived in Europe?
"It’s a good perception. The buzz created by David Beckham gave more attention to [American soccer], but seeing the amount of fans that watched the World Cup this year shows that football is getting a massive following. I’ve seen the crowds that some teams get in MLS, and they’re getting big crowds. It's definitely a nation that’s progressing.
MLSsoccer.com: You played against the Galaxy's Landon Donovan while he was on loan at Everton earlier this year. What were your thoughts on Donovan as a player?
“Everyone was really impressed with Donovan. He was one of their best players. He was a real threat; a lot of pace and intelligent runs, he scored some fantastic goals. Lots of energy and a real quick, exciting player.”
MLSsoccer.com: How do you believe MLS factored into his preparation for the English Premier League?
“The EPL is known as one of the fastest leagues in the world but that didn’t seem to bother [Donovan]. He is the best player in MLS—well respected and highly regarded, so I think that the transition to the English game was very easy.
MLSsoccer.com: What did you think of the United States' run in the recent World Cup?
“The manager had them very well organized. To get out of the group stages should be seen as an achievement. They played with a lot of hunger and aggression, and they played some good football. Everyone knows it’s not an easy game when they play against the U.S., but they’re proving all the time that they’re getting better.”
MLSsoccer.com: As captain of the Scottish national team, how do you feel about Scotland's chances in the upcoming Euro 2012 campaign?
“It’s gotten difficult to qualify in Europe. We’ve got a new manager and hopefully that will bring us some fortune. The Scottish League is trying to rely on a lot of youth, and we’re seeing the goods of that coming through now. We've been close the last couple of campaigns. I think the rest of the world will want to see the great fans that we’ve got because it would definitely be a good addition.”
MLSsoccer.com: It has been seven years since Manchester United were last in the United States. What are some of the memories you have of the last tour?
“Going to America is great. Every time we play, the stadiums [are] packed. The facilities are excellent. This time we're actually going to play a couple of [MLS] teams, so that's going to be a good experience.
MLSsoccer.com: What are your goals for the upcoming North American tour?
“You want to win every game, but the most important thing on this tour is getting our fitness. It’s about managing yourself physically, watching your minutes and not going for any silly challenges, as you don’t want to pick up any injuries in the preseason.”
MLSsoccer.com: Manchester United recently announced the signing of Mexican sensation Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. What do you think he brings to the team?
“He looked very exciting in the World Cup. He scored two fantastic goals. He looked very sharp, quick, a real eye for a goal. He looks like a natural born goal scorer, which every team needs. I’m sure he’ll be a great signing for Manchester United.”
MLSsoccer.com: Manchester United are one of the most storied clubs in the world. Can you explain what it means to play for the Red Devils?
“You look at it as a step down if you leave. If you’re lucky enough to stay, you’ll have played at the top for your whole career and it doesn’t get much bigger than Manchester United. Players who left say, 'Think twice before you leave, because there is nowhere like Manchester United.' Everything about the club makes it the place you want to be. No one really thinks about leaving when you’re here.”
MLSsoccer.com: Who do you believe are the greatest players to don the Manchester United jersey?
“Being Scottish, Dennis Law appeals to me. Obviously Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best, but Ryan Giggs is closing up on them with what he’s achieved. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, they’re almost like urban legends. Fantastic role models for us younger players to have.”
MLSsoccer.com: Who is the greatest player you have played alongside?
“Paul Scholes. To have played at the top for 10-15 years, that's a benchmark for me, trying to reach his level. For what he's achieved, [he] never really got the credit he deserved.
MLSsoccer.com: Would you consider playing in MLS?
“You can never rule anything out. Everything about MLS and America - it's a great country - appeals to players. You see how MLS has progressed; the league keeps getting bigger. It’s a massively growing sport. There are great teams that would be big attractions to players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more players head out there.”
MLSsoccer.com: Manchester United take on MLS expansion team Philadelphia Union on July 21. What are your thoughts on playing such a young team?
“It’s an exciting opportunity for them. It’s going to be great for the city. It’s great that they are playing one of their first few games against Manchester United. It will bring great attention to them and help set them up for the MLS season.”