- Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher takes an extended break from football
- Fletcher is suffering from ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition
- Medical advice prompted Fletcher to spend a prolonged period away from game
Scotland and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher is taking an extended break from soccer due to illness.
The 27-year-old has been at the reigning English Premier League champions since 2000 and is suffering from ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition.
Fletcher, who has won four Premier League titles and one European Champions League crown with United, has been battling the condition for a year. He has made just ten appearances for the club this season.
His last game was against Basel when United dropped out of the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2005 and the club confirmed in a statement on their official website that several absences from playing in the past year have been due to his illness.
The statement read: "Whilst he was able to maintain remission of symptoms for a considerable period this has proved more difficult recently and Darren's continued desire to play and his loyalty to both his club and country has probably compromised the chances of optimizing his own health and fitness.
"He has therefore accepted medical advice to take an extended break from the demands of training and playing in order to afford the best chance possible of achieving full remission once again."
News of Fletcher's absence comes as a fresh blow to United who are struggling with several injuries.
Mexican striker Javier Hernandez, Brazilian trio Fabio, Rafael and Anderson, England midfielder Tom Cleverly and strikers Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen are all on the casualty list, as is Serbian defender and United captain Nemanja Vidic, who is likely to be out for the rest of the season.
News of Fletcher's absence drew an immediate response from his fellow players, including Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand who said on Twitter: "We are going to miss 2 big players in Fletcher + Vidic, I hope they both come back fitter + stronger than ever."
Owen updated his official page on the social networking site to say: "Wishing Fletch all the best in his recovery. #topbloke"
Scotland manager Craig Levein said he was devastated for Fletcher, who has represented his country 58 times, 20 as captain.
"I know how hard he has worked to get back to playing regularly for his club and country," he said in a statement on the Scottish Football Association's website.
"He is one of the most inspirational players I have had the pleasure of working with and on behalf of his Scotland team-mates and my backroom staff I sincerely hope this time off, allied to the support of his family, will enable him to make a full recovery.
"Darren has shown tremendous dedication and fortitude, demonstrated by his ability to overcome this illness and perform at the highest level for Manchester United and Scotland."