Darren Fletcher attributes the key stage of his development at Manchester United to Brian McClair and believes the future of Scottish football is “in good hands” with the appointment of the new Performance Director.
McClair was unveiled last week by Chief Executive Stewart Regan and Scotland national coach Gordon Strachan and begins the role on June 1.
He was reserve team coach at Old Trafford when a foal-like Fletcher emerged through the system and the West Bromwich Albion midfielder, who spent 15 years at United before leaving in January, recalled the McClair methods that fast-tracked him to success under Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Brian’s appointment is a real coup for the Scottish FA and Scottish football,” said Fletcher. “He was a big influence in my career as reserve-team manager and in that six-month period I benefited greatly from his mix of old-fashioned value and modern coaching ideas and principles.
“He is a very deep thinker about the game and it’s only when I look back now that I realise those methods have stuck with me and helped me a great deal in my career. It was almost a subconscious form of coaching.”
Fletcher gave an insight into those methods he considered to have been pioneering more than a decade ago.
“For example, when he was in charge of the reserves he would give different players responsibility to take team-talks and organise set-pieces,” he recalled. “This was about giving the players the freedom to make their own decisions and use their responsibility. He would sit back and watch it all unfold but from that he could see those who have leadership and those who prefer to be coached. It got everybody thinking for themselves rather than being told what to do.
“We used to play a game, too, where you wouldn’t be allowed to talk on the pitch. You’d have a laugh about it then - playing a game in total silence - but again, looking back, it was a great way of improving your awareness of what’s happening around you.
“Even though it was 12 years ago it was ahead of its time. The biggest thing was the freedom of expression, giving you the confidence to play and make decisions without bogging you down with too much information.
“He would add small things to your game bit-by-bit and it absolutely helped me become the player I am today. My transition period from the reserves to the first team was only six months and I have no doubt the quickness of that was down to Choccy. He made you better almost without you realising and that’s a great quality to have.”
Fletcher has been an ambassador for the Scottish FA’s Performance School programme, which is now in its fourth year with more than 300 pupils benefitting from an additional eight hours of skills development in seven schools throughout the country.
He believes the experience of McClair will help take the strategy to the next level and give future generations of Scotland international players a winning mindset.
“I am an advocate of the Performance Strategy and the Performance Schools and I am sure Brian will be a massive influence in the coming years,” he said. “It is in good hands: he has learned from the best in Sir Alex and has a record of producing terrific players.
“People forget that players who might not have come through at Manchester United’s first team have come through the academy and become winners and in some cases successful leaders at other teams.”
Fletcher is enjoy a new lease of life at the Hawthorns after transferring in January and having assumed the captaincy under Tony Pulis and helped the club to a five-match unbeaten run, he is relishing the prospect of a return to the international stage for the forthcoming matches against Northern Ireland the resumption of the European Qualifiers against Gibraltar.
“I am enjoying it very much,” he said. “Everything about the club is terrific and we have had some really good results in recent weeks. With each game my performances and fitness improves and I can’t wait to get back for what is a very exciting second part of the qualifying campaign with Scotland.”