Marouane Fellaini, for one reason or another, is not universally popular among Manchester United. It’s fair to say that he conquers opinion. Some can see his quality and what he brings to the club, but others can only see a player that personifies the darker periods since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Unfortunately, life at Manchester United didn’t get off on the right step for Fellaini. Totally out of his control, but how his whole transfer was dealt with by Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, was a shambles from start to finish.
David Moyes, the newly appointed successor of Ferguson, searched long and hard for his midfield man, going through the possibilities of Toni Kroos, Arturo Vidal and many more, before deciding that Fellaini was the only realistic option.
After enquiring about his price, they knew, that within a certain time window, Fellaini had an active buyout clause £22 million before it expired on 31 July. Because the club stuttered and dithered all summer, they had to return right at the end of the transfer window with an improved offer of £27.5 million. The deal was done, but the farce summed up the next few years and, unluckily for Fellaini, he was at the heart of it.
There is no doubt that Fellaini has his qualities and he was an excellent servant to Everton when under the management of Moyes. Often played just behind the striker, Fellaini would create a nuisance in the box and disrupt the opposition’s defence, often scoring crucial goals at pivotal moments.
However, for some reason unknown to all, Moyes, and his replacement Louis van Gaal, decided to use him further back in midfield. The Belgium international simply couldn’t have the same effect as he had shown in the Premier League beforehand, and was also not technically good enough to play in a two-man pivot, constructing attacks and driving the team forward. It wasn’t his game.
For the following few years, Fellaini was seen as an outcast. He didn’t necessarily fit into the football that LvG was looking for: a possession-dominated philosophy with players that have expert technicalities to them. Fellaini certainly wasn’t one of those.
The situation reached its all-time lowest point under José Mourinho, when the Belgian was brought on as a substitute in December 2016 and was booed by the Old Trafford crowd. Seldom do the home fans whistle and boo their own players – unless you are Real Madrid – but such was the breakdown in the relationship that it had just become normal.
One thing remained, however. How was it that for a player who had been subjected to boos and whistles survived under three managers in his four-and-a-half stint at Manchester United? Perhaps there was not a bad player there after all.
At his lowest point as a Red Devil, Fellaini actually begun to turn his career around and lay the foundation blocks to recovering his reputation among was should have already been his supporters. The Belgian’s performances started to pick up towards the back end of the 2016/17 season, but his major breakthrough came in the following campaign.
It was clear from the beginning of his reign that Mourinho preferred a midfielder of Fellaini’s stature to that of Juan Mata. The Portuguese values loyalty and a robustness that not all players have, but Fellaini was certainly one to move into the inner circle under Mourinho.
With the same late and crucial goals, Fellaini found his role within the team: the super sub. While Mourinho arguably played him from the beginning of matches too often, the Belgian had a wonderful knack of appearing at the right time at the end of matches, slotting it home to the eruption of the Manchester United fans.
Not many were kidding themselves thinking Fellaini could turn into a player that had a long-term future at the club, but he was one to applaud in the moment when he took his chances. The Belgian is, quite clearly, a limited player in some aspects, but in others, he is one of the world’s best.
With Ole Gunnar Solskjær taking the immediate reigns, it is unlikely that Fellaini is going to feature handsomely between now and the end of the season. The Norwegian prefers a pressing style of play, with technically gifted players on the ball, making things happen. Fellaini, for all that he is good for, just doesn’t fit into that brand of football.
At the end of the season, Man United are most likely going to try and move Fellaini on, after five years at the club. He’s had his ups and he’s certainly had his downs, but fans should look back on his time at the club and remember that he was a player who gave his all when asked upon. After all, he did survive under three Manchester United managers.
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