Fellaini: A Symbol of Post Fergie United 31 Jan 2019 14:26
By Philip Meese
As Marouane Fellaini prepares to depart Manchester United, we look back on his time at the club, and why he was always fighting a losing battle.
For many Manchester United fans, Marouane Fellaini epitomizes everything negative about life at Old Trafford since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær replaced José Mourinho in December, the big Belgian hasn’t started a first team fixture. He is currently injured but even when he has been fit, Fellaini has just two appearances as a substitute under the Norwegian.
According to reports in the media, the midfielder is set for a big money move to China, having passed a medical. As the transfer deadline over there doesn’t expire until February, there is no hurry to rush through a deal. When the transfer does go through, a lot of fans who believe a player such as Fellaini has no right to wear the red shirt will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
The irony about Fellaini’s transfer from Everton in 2013 is that not only was he the first big signing of the post-Fergie era, he is also a central midfielder. This is an area that United fans had been complaining about for several years, due to the fact that the last players signed for that position were Owen Hargreaves and Anderson, both in the summer of 2007.
Despite being linked with a whole host of midfielders in that six-year period, Wesley Sneijder being the most prominent, Ferguson preferred to go with home grown options such as Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverley. It was almost as though he was proving a point that he didn’t need to strengthen that area, especially when he played Rafael in central midfield ahead of a young Paul Pogba.
After a summer transfer window where United were linked with huge names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Thiago Alcântara, the signing of Fellaini left the fans severely underwhelmed. What didn’t help matters is that because they waited until the last day of the window to secure his signature, United paid £4 million more than they would have six weeks earlier, due to an expired clause in his contract at Goodison Park.
If the signing of Fellaini didn’t leave the fans feeling flat enough, the defence of their Premier League title was an unmitigated disaster. The fact that David Moyes gave the impression of a man who didn’t believe he was good enough for the job was probably one of the reasons why United went from Champions to 7th place in less than a year. It also meant that Moyes didn’t even last the season.
When Ryan Giggs took over as caretaker manager following Moyes’ dismissal, Fellaini played just one of his four games in charge. This would seem to indicate that Giggs didn’t believe he was a United player any more than the fans did.
Van Gaal and Mourinho
When Louis van Gaal became United’s first foreign manager in 2014, Fellaini quickly became one of his trusted lieutenants. With the Belgian not being noted for blistering pace or acceleration, the Dutchman’s slow, pedestrian style of play suited him well. He scored his first United goal, an absolute belter, in 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion. He followed it up with another six that season, one of which put United ahead in a 4-2 win over Manchester City, and was a key part of the side which secured a top four finish.
After van Gaal was sacked following the 2016 F.A. Cup Final, it was widely expected that Fellaini would follow him out of the Old Trafford door. On the contrary, the Belgian became one of the few players Mourinho came to rely on. This is no surprise, as Fellaini fits the profile of the type of footballer Mourinho favours; big, strong and aggressive. The fact that he is not a particularly skilful player was irrelevant. The manager trusted him, and he always gave 100% in a United shirt; nobody could ever say otherwise.
Why Fellaini was always Doomed to Fail
When the word Manchester United is mentioned, Marouane Fellaini is just not the sort of player who springs to mind. In fact, he is kind of the antithesis of everything that Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby and stood for. His height, strength and aerial ability make him a very viable Plan B, and therein lies the problem. No great United side has ever needed a player like that, and the fact that they have relied on it so often under the last two managers shows just how much standards have fallen.
Even before his move to Old Trafford, the Belgian had the kind of reputation for elbowing opponents that Luis Suárez has for biting them. He seems like a red card waiting to happen, even though he has only been sent off twice in his time at United.
One point that is worth noting is that he is one of the most committed players at the club. His effort and work rate are matched by few. In the 2017 Europa League Final, many believed he was the real man of the match, despite the official award going to Ander Herrera. It’s also worth noting that he has scored in three semi-finals over the last few years, so nobody can say he was a total waste of money.
One of the biggest problems is that Fellaini’s style of play pretty much sums up Manchester United in the last five years; slow, clumsy, painful to watch. The fact that Solskjær is seemingly sanctioning his departure from the club, despite there being no guarantee that he will be in charge next season, tells its own story. Like Giggs, he is United through and through, and knows that there is no place for that type of player at Old Trafford.
After five years of sleep-inducing football, it looks like United are planning on returning to the style of football for which they have been famous. Fast, exciting attacking play that gets bums off seats is even more important to the fans than a full trophy cabinet. In no way does Fellaini fit into that category.
When Fellaini does leave United, it’s unlikely that too many fans will remember him with any fondness. They will probably forever associate him with David Moyes, and all that came after it. It seems fitting that, just as Mourinho’s sacking lifted the gloom at Old Trafford, one of the biggest symbols of the past five grim years is set to follow him out of the door.
Some of the abuse Fellaini has endured from the fans over the years may seem a bit harsh, especially as it’s not really his fault. The whole world knew what type of player he was before United bought him. Nobody can blame him for wanting to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, as it’s hard to imagine a side like Barcelona or Real Madrid coming in for him. All he has done is play his natural game, and he has done it to the best of his ability.
Maybe one of the reasons he gave his all in every game is that he himself realised how lucky he was to be putting on that shirt. It’s a shame some of his more naturally gifted team mates haven’t always put his level of effort in over the years. The fact is that everything that has happened at Old Trafford over the last five years just isn’t Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini is the biggest example of that; he just isn’t a United player.
Never has been, never will be.