Ashley Fletcher interview: West Ham man discusses Man Utd exit
By Nick Lustig
Last Updated: 30/11/16 6:53pm
West Ham forward Ashley Fletcher speaks to Sky Sports about his new life in London, leaving Manchester United and the two November trips to Old Trafford.
Ashley Fletcher is enjoying his new surroundings and getting used to the hustle and bustle of London life.
The forward left the security of the Manchester United academy in the summer, turning down a two-year contract to stay at Old Trafford, for a new challenge with West Ham.
Born in Keighley in West Yorkshire, Fletcher had spent all of his life in the north of England and had previously only ventured south when football dictated a brief trip to the capital.
The flat he now shares with his girlfriend is situated in the very heart of the Docklands, overlooking The O2 as well as the new financial district and River Thames. The iconic setting has provided him with the perfect backdrop to view the city in all its grandeur.
It is a way of life he is adjusting to, and the 21-year-old is quick to point out that he still feels like a "wide-eyed northern boy" in the big city.
"I've gone to see Big Ben and the London Eye, the Parliament buildings as well, it's great to look around," he said.
"I've always been up for seeing new sights, travelling and seeing the world. Now I'm living in the capital, it's certainly a different way of life, but I love it down here.
"I've used the tube a couple of times, it was definitely different, a lot busier and a lot more frantic than it is in Manchester with the Metrolink. It's a great way to get around. But I don't think I'll be using it during rush hour!"
Though he may not be rushing to join the rat race anytime soon, Fletcher is keen to hop on the Premier League gravy train.
While on loan at Barnsley last season, he watched from afar as academy pal Marcus Rashford made the most of a striking injury crisis at Manchester United under Louis van Gaal.
It was a chance that may have been afforded to Fletcher had he not been at Oakwell.
Not being one to dwell on what could have been, Fletcher kept his focus on Barnsley and helped spearhead their promotion push to the Sky Bet Championship, scoring nine times in 27 appearances, including the first goal in the 3-1 play-off final victory over Millwall in May.
The success achieved at Barnsley, as well as Rashford's rise to first-team stardom, did however leave Fletcher with a burning desire to make a name for himself higher up the footballing chain and ultimately led to his permanent departure from Manchester United, the club he considers as the "biggest in the world".
Even the arrival of Jose Mourinho in June did little to alter his thoughts on staying at Manchester United.
"The decision to leave was probably made more or less before Jose had come in," he said. "I had obviously spoken with Nicky Butt, who was the head of the academy at the time, Warren Joyce and people who were above in the board, John Alexander and Ed Woodward. I just thought the decision was right for me and for my family; it was time for me to go and make a career for myself.
"Manchester United offered me a new contract, but in terms of what I wanted, it was not right. It wasn't about anything financial, it was just about my career and my progress. What they were offering and their ambitions for me did not match mine.
"Because I was out of contract, there were a few teams already aware of my situation and they were coming with bigger contracts and bigger promises for me to progress my career. I would say a two-year contract was not what I was expecting. It was difficult to turn Manchester United down, but you've got to think of your career."
It represented the end of a seven-year association between Fletcher and Manchester United, but also signified a new beginning for the former England U20 international.
It was the persuasive powers of West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan and a long-term plan outlined by manager Slaven Bilic that convinced Fletcher his future lay with the Hammers, who were themselves preparing to enter a new era in the club's history at the London Stadium.
He has since featured nine times for the first-team and, though he is yet to break his goal scoring duck for the club, he has shown flashes of his undoubted potential.
Big, strong and quick, Fletcher has all the attributes needed to succeed in the top-flight.
But with record signing Andre Ayew and Diafra Sakho back to full fitness, and Andy Carroll also nearing a return to action, Fletcher is under no illusions that he faces a real fight to force himself into starting contention as West Ham look to improve on their slow start to the season, which has left them languishing in 17th place.
He remains undeterred though, and is convinced his decision to leave Manchester United for West Ham has already been vindicated.
"I've made nine appearances and I don't personally think that would have happened to me this year if I would have stayed at Manchester United," he said. "The experiences I am getting at West Ham and the way I am progressing as a player, and as a person, I feel I have really benefited. So, I think it was the right decision to leave."
Fletcher is meeting his old club at Old Trafford twice in the space of a week, firstly with Sunday's 1-1 draw in the Premier League and then again in the EFL Cup on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 7.30pm.
The fixtures represent the first meetings between the two clubs since West Ham's memorable victory over United in the final ever match to be played at the Boleyn Ground in May.
Fletcher was then an interested television spectator in his flat in Manchester, and having been a 66th-minute substitute on Sunday, he hopes to make an impact in the cup in front of a host of familiar faces and family members.
"It was such a big game at the Boleyn and the atmosphere was unbelievable, it was a fitting end to an unbelievable stadium," he said ahead of the two Old Trafford clashes.
"Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to play there, I wish I could have done, but that game really sticks in my mind.
"I always knew the passion of West Ham fans. When they played away from home at Old Trafford or when I had seen them on TV, the passion the fans have is a different level in my eyes because they live and breathe football.
"It obviously hurts when we get beat, but when we win, you can see the joy in people's faces. I would say that was a major factor in me joining West Ham so, that being said, I am really excited to be going back to Old Trafford as it should be a magnificent occasion.
"People at United know what I'm about, so hopefully I'll get the opportunity to put on a good performance for the West Ham fans. There's no bad blood or jealously with United. I'm really proud of my time at United and I know it made me the player, and person, I am today. However, my full focus is on West Ham and hopefully getting two good results."