Like it or not, Marouane Fellaini has done more good than harm at Manchester United since joining the club under David Moyes. For all of his critics, he has lasted under three different managers with three completely different playing styles – they value him in ways that it is hard to comprehend for the everyday fan.
Fellaini isn’t a pretty player on the ball and he’s not one to make you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting in anticipation over what is going to happen next. He is, however, useful. Useful in the sense that he disrupts the opposition’s defensive organisation and they become fixated on the physicality that the Belgian brings. This, in turn, allows Fellaini’s teammates to sneak into gaps not previously there, as well as give United another option when looking to approach the opponents’ box.
Having Fellaini run your midfield is not what he should be used for. Compare him to someone like Paul Pogba and the difference is stark, but there are seldom football players who can pose such an immediate threat when he comes onto the pitch and takes up his place between the opposition’s centre back and, usually, left back.
When Mourinho left Pogba out last Tuesday evening against Young Boys, there was a concern from fans over the dynamism of Man United’s play. They were right. Far too many times were the Red Devils stagnant in their approach, with Fellaini too deep to cause havoc. When the Belgium international is on the ball, 40 yards away from the goal, he is not a threat at all and becomes quickly nullified.
The eventual winning goal against the Swiss-based club, that came through the Belgian, was scored because he was allowed to go up front and assume his more accustomed role. Pogba came onto the pitch and started working the ball into more advantageous areas, with Fellaini causing menace in the Young Boys box.
Fellaini received the ball with his back to goal with just minutes to spare, controlled it as he usually does, quickly pivoted and struck the ball with his right foot. It wasn’t the cleanest of shots and there was a case of handball thrown in, but it was what was needed as it found the bottom left-hand corner. Fellaini rose to the occasion once again under Mourinho and the Portuguese manager’s celebration of launching a crate of water bottles suggests how important that goal was for him. A sigh of relief.
A large proportion of Manchester United fans were disappointed when the club bent over backwards to make sure Fellaini signed a contract renewal in June. Such were the excruciatingly long negotiations, Fellaini actually became a free agent before signing with Man United. The midfielder-cum-forward was put onto a new and improved contract to the distaste of many.
However, Fellaini has triumphed under Mourinho and come up with the goods on more than one occasion. The Belgian has a knack of understanding the box better than some forwards and can manipulate defenders into a false sense of security. It’s not hard tracking Fellaini given his size, but his physicality and aerial prowess provide such a nuisance to any defender going up against him.
The former Everton man might only have two goals and two assists this season in 15 appearances throughout all competitions, but Fellaini’s service is measured by more than just goals and assists. What he brings to the team is another dimension that Manchester United desperately need. The Red Devils look lost on the pitch at times and bringing on a player with Fellaini’s attributes usually proves worthwhile with the opposition panicking and pressing the self destruct button.
Fellaini’s presence isn’t always needed and against Young Boys from the start, it certainly wasn’t. The perfect time to bring on the Belgian on is with 20 minutes to go when the Red Devils are in search of a goal to ascertain a result. With Fellaini’s limited ball-playing ability, having him start games is usually non-productive, as he’s trapped on the halfway line without the ability to make runs into the box and attack the ball.
What, perhaps, has been most impressive of all about Fellaini is his fight against adversity. It has been made clear on a number of occasions that he is not the most-liked in the group and, up until about one-year ago, was on the receiving end of terrible abuse from his own fans. And yet, even with that, he has stuck to what he knows best and remained at the club.
Louis van Gaal, Moyes and Mourinho all saw value in him and now the Manchester United fans are starting to come around to that viewpoint in certain situations. Fellaini is a warrior and has done nothing but give his all for the Red Devils, which is why supporters now need to give them their full backing – he has done more than enough to deserve it.
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