Former Hibee Steven Fletcher in cruise control with Marseille
It was his pride and joy, but Steven Fletcher's Lamborghini Aventador ended up hidden under a cover on the drive at his house after a picture of the striker and his Â£260,000 car went viral on social media.
Sunderland fans were outraged, condemning the former Hibs star who had scored just seven goals in two years for the Black Cats for his insensitivity at a time when the Wearsidee club were battling to avoid relegation.
Today the Lambo is long gone, replaced by a family friendly runaround while life in the north east of England has been swapped for the sunshine of France’s Mediterranean coast after the 27-year-old agreed a surprise loan move to the once mighty Marseille.
However, while he admits that like many young football players he has some regrets, Fletcher insists splashing out on his dream car isn’t one of them, adamant he wasn’t responsible for the tweet which brought him such grief a year ago.
Back in Scotland to prepare for Thursday night’s friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague, Fletcher said: “I had a litle bit of a reputation when I was younger and people maybe thought I was showing off.
“But I was brought up in a normal family. I’ve made a decent living and had a poster of a Lamborghini on my wall when I was a kid so when I had the chance to buy one why not?
“The worst thing was that I didn’t tweet it. The guy I bought it through asked for a pic and the next thing I see is the story in the papers. It lasted two months – I didn’t enjoy driving it.
“When I was driving it I’d look in the mirror and see people taking a picture of me and I was thinking ‘just concentrate on the road mate rather than take pictures’.
“I ended up parking it on my drive with the covers over it until I could get rid of it. The deal I’d made was that it would be bought back for the price I’d paid. I was basically renting it. Had I made a loss I’d have gone looking for the guy who posted the picture. The one thing I learned was not to let people take a picture of me next to my car.
“But the Sunderland fans were always good to me. I enjoyed my time but picking up an injury while playing for Scotland hampered my time there.”
Fletcher’s current transport, a Citreon DS4, his “company car” courtesy of Marseille, is unlikely to turn many heads, the hitman describing it as a “tight squeeze” when all the family are aboard, but he’s certainly finding himself the centre of attraction in the football-daft French port despite supporters raging at the club’s demise, their 5-2 defeat at home in the Velodrome to Rennes on Friday night sparking a riot as fans tried to invade the pitch.
Having been the leading club in French football, Marseille now find themselves trailing arch-rivals Paris St Germain 36 points, the club from the capital having wrapped up the Ligue 1 title with eight matches to go.
Fletcher, who made his debut against PSG in a 2-1 defeat with Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic notching one of the goals, said: “There was a bit trouble but it was probably overdue. Marseille have not had a win at home in the league for six months, something I didn’t know until I joined them.
“The fans are so passionate. Marseille is very much a working man’s town. Everyone talks about Ibrahimovic, but in Marseille it’s only about Marseille. The fans want something to happen. Last season there weren’t so many points between Marseille and PSG but now there is a big difference and they hare getting frustrated seeing PSG spend all that money and their club being left behind. They don’t want that.”
Fletcher got a early taste of the fans’ passion that Sunday in February, describing the atmosphere as “more mental” than an Old Firm clash. The former Burnley and Wolves forward said: “I’d never seen anything like it in my life in all the derbies I’ve played in. It’s not really a derby because the clubs are so far apart, but it’s France’s biggest game.
“I have been to Old Firm games but this was more mental. It’s just the way the fans are, it’s all about banners, the big flags. There’s never a quiet moment. If a banger goes off the whole crowd erupts, they go mad.
“There are two stands, the right wing and the left wing. I don’t think they like each other for some reasonm but they fly the flags. The team bus was getting rocked by our own supporters. After a game we train at five the next day, but by the time we finish and it’s dark there’s still 30 or 40 fans there and you are thinking ‘the game was yesterday.’
“There’s a banner – I don’t fully understand it – but it’s all about the fans making the club. I’m not sure too many of them work. They are outside the training ground all day, the same fans every day.
“In the south of France they don’t speak such good English but they come up to you – I think they recognise me because of the beard – and just want to speak to you. If you give them five minutes of your time they are delighted.
“I also think the fans take to British players and the way we press when we lose the ball and look to get it back. It’s not like that over there. Players in my team that have played in England appreciate that, I think [Lassana] Diarra is happy I’m there to help him win the ball back.
“They have a lot of young players coming through. There’s some real talent and you do not realise until you get there what a good team they are.
“It’s a young team under pressure, but when they get a bit more experience it will be a great side.”
Players like former Chelsea, Arsenal and Portsmouth star Diarra and ex-Newcastle player Remy Cabella and Abou Diaby, formerly of Arsenal, have helped Fletcher settle in while he also enjoys the French style of football. He said: “I think we haven’t been training too much because it’s been two games a week. Playing at 9pm is a bit strange and while I didn’t know too much other than PSG when I got here I know it is a good league.
“The manager is playing me off the striker in the No 10 role so I am getting a lot of the ball rather than it being put on my head all the time. It’s very technical the way they play. They don’t play a lot of long balls, they try to play it from the back and I’m enjoying it.
“There are some great young players coming through. I think there’s a few Premier teams looking at them.
Fletcher is the latest of a string of British players who’ve signed for the French club, following in the footsteps of the likes of Chris Waddle, Trevor Steven, Tony Cascarino and Joey Barton who, famously, adopted a hilarious French accent at a press conference.
But Fletcher revealed he’s not fallen into that trap. He said: “In my first interview I was speaking as if it was to a two-year-old but I thought I’m going to get slagged to I stopped it and went back to the way I normally speak. My French is not very good but my wife’s is and she corrects me when I think I’m saying one thing but actually saying something totally different.”
Other than the language, Fletcher admits he’s thoroughly enjoying his new life and revealed he’d contemplate extending his stay in France when his Sunderland contract expires in the summer, having jumped at the opportunity to move during the January transfer window when it became obvious his chances of game time at the Stadium of Light would be limited.
He said: “I’d always had it at the back of my mind that I wouldn’t mind trying something different. I had a few hours to decide because the window was going to shut so I spoke to the missus, she was happy with it and so I thought why not? It’s been good since I arrived. I’m enjoying playing games, that’s the most important thing for me, especially with the situation with my contract. My family are over which helps. The children are outside playing all day – back in Sunderland they couldn’t do that. For them it’s fantastic and for me I’m finished by 12.30 and, as you can see [from his sun-tan], I can sit in the sun for the rest of the day.
“It was getting frustrating at Sunderland, but I’ve been in that situation before when you find yourself down the pecking order. The gaffer [Sam Allardyce] was honest enough with me. He said it might change, it might not and I said I’d rather go out and play.”
Fletcher has, of course, continually touted with a move to Celtic, but while saying he didn’t know what to say about that, added: “I think I’ve been linked with Celtic since I was 17. Staying with Marseille long-term is possible, but I will wait and see. Hopefully I will have a few options.”