Ferguson thankful he kept Fletcher

Forget Cristiano Ronaldo staying or Dimitar Berbatov arriving, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson says his most important contract negotiation this season was keeping Darren Fletcher at Old Trafford.

Scotland midfielder Fletcher made just 24 appearances last term and, with United boasting a wealth of players in his position, could easily have decided his first-team future lay elsewhere.

But instead the 24-year-old, who joined United as a teenager eight years ago, opted to stay after being rewarded with a four-year contract.

Ferguson has had reason to be thankful that his compatriot stayed, with the likes of Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick all already injured at various stages of the current campaign.

Fletcher has become an increasingly regular starter and last Saturday, away to Everton, made his 11th appearance where his third goal of the season helped the English Premier League champions to a 1-1 draw.

"The relief of the season was to get Darren a new contract because there were a lot of clubs trying to buy him," said Ferguson. "He had one year left but he wanted more football. Leaving could easily have been a consideration simply because with Hargreaves, Carrick, Scholes and Anderson there is so much competition."

However, Ferguson added: "I just felt Darren is a United player.

"He is outstanding in big games, when he always does such a great job," Ferguson added. "I told him he had been brought up at this club and after January, he had been playing in all the big games until he got an injury and not to forget he came back and played some more.

"It convinced him to stay, which was what we wanted because now he is such an important player for us.

"He has developed his game and taken it to a new level."

Ferguson now faces the choice of whether to continue with Fletcher or bring Carrick, who has been suffering with an ankle problem, back against West Ham - the England international's former club - on Wednesday.