Marouane Fellaini’s arrival at Manchester United late on Transfer Deadline Day last season for £27.5 million was largely met with sceptical eyes.
United had had a poor transfer window, with 20-year-old Uruguayan right-back Guillermo Varela being the only other signing.
Was Fellaini, at that price, a panic buy by new manager David Moyes?
The Scotsman justified the purchase saying, as quoted by BBC: “He can play higher up, if we need it, behind the striker or as a defensive or holding midfielder. In any position in the middle of the field he’s comfortable.”
However, the Belgian was only ever used as a defensive or holding midfielder by Moyes, who had managed him for five years at Everton, throughout the season.
As United’s season wore on and deteriorated by the week, the number of Fellaini wigs at Old Trafford also reduced linearly. He did not score a single goal that season.
With Moyes sacked towards the end of the season and new manager Louis van Gaal brought in during the summer, Fellaini could well have started packing his bags. However, per the Guardian, van Gaal wiped the slate clean and welcomed Fellaini into his philosophy.
It took three months, his third appearance of the season and three minutes on the field for Fellaini to repay his first instalment of the manager’s confidence in him.
Against West Bromwich Albion on Monday evening, after United encountered a frustrating first half at the Hawthorns, conceding a poor goal, Fellaini was seen warming up during the interval. Soon, the substitution was announced with the largely ineffective Ander Herrera coming off.
This prompted West Brom to tweet the following:
Within three minutes of coming on, West Brom were made to eat their 140 characters as Fellaini muscled Joleon Lescott away to receive Angel Di Maria’s cross from the left wing, chested the ball down, flicked it to his right to get away from Sebastien Pocognoli and unleashed a firebolt that gave Boaz Myhill no chance.
Even though he had replaced defensive mid Herrera, the 1.94-metre tall Belgian was more often seen lurking in the box, muscling defenders and waiting for the aerial cross to chest down.
Manchester United had played Fellaini to his strengths. It wasn’t rocket science and it had been done for years by Moyes at Goodison Park, peaking in the 2011-12 season when the Belgian scored 11 goals.
Fellaini in Everton blue was someone around whom the team based their attacks. He is a substantial aerial threat due to his height, he is a strong and well-built player who cannot be bullied by defenders in the box and thrives on the long ball game.
Meanwhile, when used deeper in the midfield like Moyes did last season, Fellaini is ordinary at best: he isn’t quick, his passing isn’t great, his possession play is quite mediocre and can easily be beaten to the ball.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher put it aptly when he said on Monday Night Football that Fellaini had so far been caught in between playing his way and the Manchester United way.
On Monday at the Hawthorns, the Fellaini of Everton had been released by van Gaal and the results were immediate.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, van Gaal said that Fellaini brings a physical balance to United’s formation.
“I am a coach who is always thinking of creative players, but in England you need physical bodies in your team. Fellaini is one of them,” said the Dutchman.
“[Before coming on] I said to him to look at what Herrera is doing because I want you to play. But I put him on the other side because Di Maria has the crosses for him. He scored at once and made a very good play.”
However, Fellaini the centre forward would add to van Gaal’s selection dilemma of whom to play in that No 10 area, with Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata above in the pecking order, and possibly even Adnan Januzaj.
But as long as United have that luxury of choice, they should use it.
It might be a little premature to say that Fellaini’s woes are now behind him. He has got potentially 30 more games to prove not only to the fans and the manager but also to himself that he belongs at the Theatre of Dreams.
Featured image courtesy: Nick (Creative Commons)