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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

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Fletcher: United games 20 times more valuable

Darren Fletcher believes one game for Manchester United is worth 20 a young player might get elsewhere as they continue their footballing education.

The likes of teenage trio Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda and Rafael Da Silva, as well as Darron Gibson and Gabriel Obertan will be involved as United host Tottenham in Tuesday night's Carling Cup quarter final, and former youth-teamer Fletcher said they are better off waiting for such opportunities at United than getting first-team action elsewhere.

"A first-team game for Manchester United can mean the equivalent of playing 10 or 20 anywhere else. It is that big,'' Fletcher said. "It is on so much of a higher scale. That was always echoed through the youth system and from my own experience I know it is true."

Tottenham are also likely to use their back-up players, although that includes recent bench-warmer Robbie Keane. But Fletcher believes the experience gained by young players in this and similar games will not only help them develop but will also assist the club in the gruelling late stages of the season, as Macheda's crucial strikes did in 2008-09.

"It is all very well training, and at a club like United you do pick up lots, but the more games these lads get, especially big matches like tonight's, the more they will learn. These players need games. They are an important part of the squad and will probably be needed later on in the season, so we will feel the benefit right through the club.''

It is a view manager Sir Alex Ferguson shares, which is why he was so irritated by the media criticism his players received last week after they played in the Champions League dead-rubber loss to Besiktas, and why, at the first appropriate opportunity, he launched a fierce counter-offensive.

"Those lads need to be challenged and I thought they did okay,'' Ferguson said. "They did not deserve that kind of criticism. Those same people will be going cap in hand to them, begging them for interviews in a few years' time, mark my words. It is so hypocritical.

"What is the difference between that and Alan Hansen doing it in front of millions. Yet one gets slaughtered for it and this guy gets off. Wonderful. What a world.''

Ferguson was referring to Hansen's criticism of Wayne Bridge after Manchester City's draw with Burnley earlier this month. As the person who left Hansen out of Scotland's 1986 World Cup squad, there has never been any particular empathy between the pair.

However, there is a recognition of the respect Hansen has gained in his role as a pundit, and his insight into the art of defending. Ferguson clearly feels others sitting in judgement do not possess the same depth of knowledge.

"I don't need to motivate them (the players) with what has been said,'' said Ferguson. "Their future is well mapped out. But the one thing we cannot give them is an old head, which is what we saw in the last third of the pitch last week. They got anxious. They created good chances and they hurried the thing, but that is not the biggest crime in the world.''

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