Fears over Fletcher as Man United midfielder is forced to take break from football as serious illness is revealed
Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher is facing a fight to save his career at the age of 27.
United announced that the Scotland captain had been forced to take an indefinite break from playing after succumbing to a debilitating bowel condition.
Fletcher missed a large chunk of last season with a so-called “virus” and then sat out much of pre-season when the problem resurfaced.
Out of action: Darren Fletcher will take a prolonged break from football
However, the Barclays Premier League champions have revealed that Fletcher has actually been suffering from aproblem known as “ulcerative colitis”.
It is considered unlikely that Fletcher will be back before next season, and there is now a large question mark over his career.
Whether the midfielder can return will depend on the severity of the condition. Olympic rower Sir Steve Redgrave won gold medals at five consecutive Olympics, despite being diagnosed in 1992, while England rugby star Lewis Moody also suffers from it.
Time out: Fletcher will try to improve his healthbut the Scotland midfielder will be sorely missed by Old Trafford boss Sir Alex Ferguson (below right)
What is ulcerative colitis
According to the NHS, it is a chronic condition that affects the colon.
Symptoms include bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, frequent need to go to the toilet and weight loss. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can flare up and disappear for months or even years.
The condition causes the colon to become inflamed and in severe cases, ulcers can form on the lining of the colon.
At its most severe, the entire colon can become inflamed (known as pancolitis). This form of ulcerative colitis is particularly challenging to treat.
It is estimated that there are 10 new cases a year out of every 100,000 people. Around 100,000 people in England are affected, with people usually initially affected between the ages of 15 and 30.
One in five people have severe symptoms often respond less well to medication. In these cases,surgery may be required to remove the colon.
A United statement said: “On behalf of Darren Fletcher, Manchester United wishes to announce that he is taking an extended break from football for health reasons.
“Over the past year he has had several absence periods which we have attributed to a viral illness in order to respect his right to medical confidentiality.
“Darren has, in fact, been sufferingfrom ulcerative colitis (a chronic inflammatory bowel condition) for some time preceding this. While he was able to maintain remission of symptoms for a considerable period, this has proved more difficult recently and Darren”s continued desire to play, and his loyalty to both club and country, has probably compromised the chances of optimising his own health and fitness.
“He has therefore accepted medical advice to take an extended break from the demands of training and playing in order to afford the best chance possible of achieving full remission once again.”
The news was greeted with dismay by United followers and the football community as a whole. Not only is Fletcher considered an integral part of Sir Alex Ferguson”s first-choiceteam, he is also one of the club”s most popular players.
Fletcher”s domestic season didn”t begin until the September 18 victory against Chelsea and although he enjoyed a run after that he has not made an appearance since the November 22 Old Trafford draw with Benfica.
Last week he remained an unused substitute in Basle as United crashed out of the Champions League, and it is understood he has not been at the training ground since.
Team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen expressed their support on Twitter, as did former United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
Huge blow: Scotland will also feel Fletcher”s absence
What remains to be seen now is whether Ferguson goes back on his vow not to sign new players in January. Having lost captain Nemanja Vidic to a season-ending knee injury last week and already without a host of other injured players, Ferguson will be under pressure to prove that United do have cash for new recruits.
Fletcher”s condition can be managed in some cases by drugs, diet and lifestyle changes. In other instances, though, it can”t. Some of the drugs available to him may also figure on the banned substances list.
In his autobiography, rugby star Moody explained about the difficulties of living with a similar illness. He wrote: “The condition will never go away completely. I am resigned to taking a minimum of four tablets a day for the rest of my life. On bad days it is eight tablets.
Attempted comeback: Fletcher had already missed games due to the illness
“I have special permission under the laws of the game – a therapeutic use exemption – which allows me to take them.
“I watch my diet – no more curries, red meat (especially lamb), brown bread (surprisingly), caffeine… evenalcohol has to be taken in moderation. It is a life sentence.”
Fletcher does at least have some financial security. He was given a new four-year contract in March that takes him up to the summer of 2015, something that now seems odd given how long his struggle with this illness has clearly been going on.
Darren Fletcher: Factfile
1984: Born February 1 in Dalkeith, Scotland.
2000: Begins traineeship at Manchester United.
2001: February – signs first professional contract with United.
2003: March 12 – Makes United debut in 1-1 draw against Swiss side FC Basle in the Champions League.
August 20 – Makes Scotland debut as a substitute in the goalless friendly against Norway.
October 11 – Scores first Scotland goal in 1-0 Euro 2004 qualifier win over Lithuania, securing a play-off berth. The Scots later lose the play-off 6-1 on aggregate to Holland.
2004: May 22 – Starts as United beat Millwall 3-0 in the FA Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.
May 26 – Captains Scotland to a 1-0 win against Estonia in Tallinn, at the age of 20, becoming Scotland”s youngest captain for 118 years.
2005: January 1 – Scores first goal of his United career in 2-0 league victory at Middlesbrough.
November 6 – Fletcher”s headed goal proves enough for United to end Chelsea”s 40-match unbeaten league record, and comes in the wake of criticism aimed at the midfielder by Roy Keane in an interview which was never aired by MUTV.
2006: February 26 – Misses out on United matchday squad for League Cup final against Wigan. United win 4-0.
2007: May 6 – Wins first Premier League title with United, having made 40 appearances over the course of the season.
2008: October 3 – Signs a three-year extension to his contract with United, keeping him at the club until 2012.
October 7 – Named Scotland captain for the World Cup qualifier against Norway in the absence of Barry Ferguson and Stephen McManus.
2009: May 5 – Ruled out of the Champions League final after being sent off against Arsenal in the semi-final.
May 11 – Sees an appeal against the card dismissed by UEFA.
2011: March 6 – Plays against Liverpool after which he is ruled out with what the club describe as a virus which caused severe weight loss.
August 15 – Returns in a reserve match against Arsenal, after missing United”s pre-season tour of the United States to work on his fitness.
October 5 – Announces he is ruled out of Scotland”s Euro 2012 qualifier against Liechtenstein with tonsilitis.
October 7 – Makes late dash to Caduz and the following night plays in the 1-0 victory.
December 13 – Takes an extended break from football after being revealing he has been suffering from ulcerative colitis.