Ashley Fletcher – the future of Manchester United?

Ashley Fletcher was loaned to Barnsley as a talented young striker during the January transfer window, a deal which would see him remain at the South Yorkshire club for the remainder of the season, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet for most matches. Fletcher has in effect done the same thing as Marcus Rashford has this season, been given a chance, taken it and paid the belief shown in him with goals and good performances. Fletcher may have been seen as too good to remain at the Old Trafford club, playing in the U18 or U21 Premier League, which is not really competitive, or allows development of players. Loaning him to the former League One club would teach him more about the game and seeing him fight for his place in a first team environment, which he seems to have done very well.

Fletcher has made a total of 27 appearances for Barnsley in the second half of the season – making his debut in the 1-1 draw against Fleetwood Town in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on the 9th January, ending the season on a high by winning the League One play-off final, beating Millwall 3-1 at Wembley, with the player scoring the opening goal after just 88 seconds. Fletcher has scored nine goals in all competitions for his loan club, a great achievement considering he is just 18 years old. Like Marcus Rashford, Fletcher has a good future ahead of him, one which will help him develop at being a decent striker, possibly one of the best if early indications become true. Fletcher has done well in League One, but may need to prove himself at the next level in order to develop even more. During the pre-season tour this coming summer, United will head to China where they will face Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City. With the European Championships this summer and the Copa America, not to mention the Olympics too, United’s squad may be cut with many first team players may be missing the tour, which may leave places for the likes of Fletcher to show what they can do for their new manager.

Fletcher’s development is something the Old Trafford club should be careful about. Personally, I would like to see him in the first team, but without seeing how he will adapt to the pressure in the Premier League, it would be wise to see him play at a lower level. The Championship is a great competitive league, which could again see him at his best for Barnsley, should he end up at the club again next season. That would give United a little bit more to see from him, which would help them decide as to whether he will prove himself at the top-level of football. Saying that, though, Rashford had not played for United’s first team before finding himself on the bench against Midtjylland back in February, with him being placed as a starter after an injury to Anthony Martial. That is where his rise to fame started, which has seen him develop consistently, never showing the pressure of the matches he was playing in, which in turn has seen him being named in the 23-man England squad for the European Championships in France this summer. Fletcher taking confidence from Rashford’s rise to fame will be a bog boost for him, it will also show him that there are places in the first team squad for those who are good enough to take them, of which I am sure he is.

Paul Heckingbottom, Barnsley’s caretaker manager spoke about Fletcher after his side won promotion to the Championship in Sunday’s League One play-off final at Wembley, beating Millwall 3-1. The Daily Star reported him as saying:

“I don’t know the pecking order there, but if he wasn’t here he could have been making his debut instead of Rashford. I think he will get better and better. United will have seen his progression and they’ll know he has the attributes to get better.”

Fletcher, who will be torn between returning to Manchester United next season, and with Barnsley wanting him to return to the club to develop in the second tier of English football, spoke about Marcus Rashford, who had risen through the youth ranks at United, scoring in the U18’s, U19’s, U21’s the first team and also making his debut for England, scoring within three minutes against Australia, stating that he had played in most age groups at the club with Rashford. He would like to play alongside him in the first team, but that will all depend on new manager Jose Mourinho and whether he feels Fletcher has what it takes to do what Rashford did during the last 100 days or so. Fletcher said:

“Hopefully people might think of us together as young players at United, but what Marcus has done is unbelievable. Scoring for United’s first team, scoring for England. He deserves every bit of the attention he is getting – but maybe I can run him for his place next season at United if I am back there. We have played together at most age groups at United – Under 16s, Under 18s, Under 21s, and to play one day together in the first team would be amazing, a huge achievement.

“I hope if Jose [Mourinho] was watching the play-off final it might have given him something to smile about. I’d like to think that some of us youngsters might do a job for him but Manchester United is a huge club and have to spend big money to compete for the Premier League title. It is strange to think what might have happened if I had stayed at United and not gone on loan, when you see what took place with Marcus.

“Part of you thinks ‘it could have been me’. But football is funny like that – opportunities can crop up at any time for people. And the main thing is that I am very proud of what I have done since I came to Barnsley. Scoring at Wembley in a big game like that to help your team win a Cup or get promoted is the sort of thing you dream about as a young boy. And very luckily for me I have done it twice in a few weeks at the age of 20 after the trophy final.

“Coming to Barnsley has been a great move for my career. And staying would be an option if United did send me out on loan again. I have loved every minute. I heard the Barnsley chairman might be picking up the phone to United and that would be fine with me. I have to keep as my aim getting in and around the Manchester United squad and first team, and I would love to do that next season. If not, I think I can score goals in the Championship.”

Barnsley chairman, Maurice Watkins, who was also a long-time Manchester United director would love to see Fletcher return to the club next season, where they will play in the Championship. Fletcher has been a shining light for the club during the time he has spent there, especially in the fact he has scored two goals at Wembley, both matches have ended in glory in lifting the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and winning promotion on the League One play-off final. Watkins said:

“The loan system is changing, but still if Premier League clubs loan out their young talent they will want them to play and develop, and I believe Ashley has done that.

“It would be fantastic to have Ashley with us in the Championship but we will have to open up our discussions and see where we get to.

“I do know the people at Manchester United from my previous associations there – that could help, you never know!”

Fletcher has good future ahead of him, he seems to know what he is capable of and knows what he wants to achieve from the game. His time at Barnsley this season should show him that the future is going to be bright for him, but jumping straight into the deep end may not be what is best for him. Fletcher being loaned to Barnsley for the season, or even a half season next term could do a lot more for his progress than sitting on the United bench, playing for the U21’s or even playing in the Capital One Cup or the UEFA Europa League. Playing in the Championship will develop him even more, which could also result in Barnsley developing as a team and possibly vying for promotion to the Premier League again. Whilst it may not be likely, you never know. Barnsley’s caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom and chairman Maurice Watkins want him to return to Oakwell next season, United should allow him to do that and could in a years time have another star on their hands. Ashley Fletcher is certainly a player for the future and one I am excited about, as are you, maybe.


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