When Marouane Fellaini signed for Manchester United on transfer deadline day in the Summer of 2013, it was widely regarded as a panic buy by the newly appointed David Moyes.
Moyes was already under heaps of pressure, replacing arguably the greatest manager of all time in Sir Alex Ferguson with a less than impressive CV. So, after a summer that saw their club linked to a number of exciting players in Gareth Bale, Thiago Alcantara, and Cesc Fabregas, United fans were left further disillusioned when all they ended up with was an uninspiring signing from Moyes’ previous club Everton.
Come the end of the season, Moyes was fired after finishing seventh – United’s worst league position in over 20 years. Louis van Gaal followed him, and after two years of football that was at times excruciating to watch, he, too, was sacked. And as has become the norm in modern football’s social media-driven scapegoating culture; Fellaini became the face of this disastrous period of abject failure. His large stature and laughable hairstyle led to United fans nicknaming him “the tree”, and the majority wanted him sold immediately.
This is a club that has had exciting football ingrained in its DNA for decades, and the last two managers had resorted to hoof-ball tactics with Fellaini at the forefront of it all. United fans were never going to approve.
When Jose Mourinho replaced van Gaal, it was assumed that would be the end of Fellaini’s United career. Of course, a manager of such high caliber would not entertain the thought of fielding such a technically limited player as the big Belgian. But those who know Mourinho well know that he is fond of players with an imposing physical presence. As much as he is a tactical genius, he often fields his teams to win the physical battle against other teams.
When it comes to this, Mourinho will not find a better player than Fellaini, whose strengths lie in winning the ball back from the opposition and causing problems for defenders with his height and sheer strength. One would also be hard-pressed to find a player in the world with better chest control.
Mourinho now has Fellaini playing in a functioning system with a specific role that is bringing out some of his best performances in a United shirt. Those performances, accompanied by four goals in his last eight games, are starting to endear him to the United faithful who are miraculously starting to acknowledge his importance to the team. So much so that news of Fellaini getting seriously injured on international duty over the weekend had certain sections of Twitter agreeing that United are doomed until he recovers. That was swiftly followed by widespread relief when it was revealed he would only miss a fortnight of action.
Fellaini deserves massive credit for this turnaround. He arrived at Manchester United with the unwanted tag of being a “panic buy” and was jeered by his own supporters multiple times.
Just a year ago, news of Fellaini being injured would have only been made headline news by United fans that were glad to see him finally off the pitch. Those same people are now bemoaning Fellaini’s absence heading into their biggest challenge of the season so far, a trip to Anfield this Saturday to face bitter rivals Liverpool, where Mourinho must look to mastermind another big win without his not-so-secret weapon.
And though Fellaini won’t be on the pitch, you can now bet on hearing his name sung in the away end.