Over the summer, it looked like Marouane Fellaini’s time at Old Trafford was over. Galatasaray were about to come in with a bid to take the big Belgian to Turkey.
To be honest, no one was really that bothered. There was a time a few years ago, this would have been cause for celebration. Things had started to get a bit better for Fellaini, but most fans wouldn’t have shed a tear if he did go.
But then his manager stepped in and said something no one was expecting. Mourinho came out and said they’d be more chance of Galatasaray getting him to move to Istanbul than Fellaini, such was his importance to the team.
This was huge from the manager and clearly illustrates the regard he holds for the Belgian’s awkward mix of bullying, sublime chest control and elbows.
It raised a few eyebrows in the Stretford End. As did the manager’s insistence that losing Fellaini before the Stoke game was the reason United lost their 100% record in the Premier League. He also said he felt ‘weaker’ without him in the squad.
This season though, he’s really starting to secure his place in the affections of the Old Trafford faithful as well as his manager. The loss of Pogba early on in the Champions League return at home to Basel was a huge blow, but Fellaini came on and absolutely bossed it.
He smashed in the opener off his powerful forehead within a few minutes of entering the fray and ran the midfield battle from there on in. He was also instrumental in last weekend’s win against Everton. You can bet he’ll be key to Mourinho’s game plan at Southampton this weekend, too.
So, what’s he doing differently? Why is his name suddenly reverberating around Old Trafford with pure love and adoration and no tinge of sarcasm? How has he won us over?
Apart from the comedic genius of his bandaged forehead and his playdough face when taking the ball full on in the chops, what he’s doing is what he’s always done. He’s being 100% himself.
He’s never changed the way he plays the game. Yes, he’s ungainly. Yes, sometimes his legs seem to move at a third of the pace of everyone else’s. But he’s effective if you use him properly.
He can be devastating if you play to his strengths. He’ll also be the first to smash into an opposition player in a big game. Something that I think is in danger of being lost from the modern game. It was great when Norman Whiteside did it, great when Keano did it and still great when Big Felli does it.
The real problem for Fellaini was his association with Moyes. Being the Scotsman’s flagship signing of his dismal reign did him no favours. Neither did Moyes’ decision to play him as a deep lying midfielder – a baffling choice considering the time they spent together at Everton.
But like van Gaal before him, Jose appreciates the special skills and the value he brings to the team. He knows how and when to deploy him and get the best out of him. The big thing for Fellaini now is that he’s playing in a better side, with top players who, most importantly, are playing to a defined system and all know their jobs.
There’s no need for him to try and dictate play from deep. No need for him to attempt to control the tempo of the game. He’s there to batter the opponents, as an outlet ball and as an attacking option that can trouble even the most accomplished of defenders.
So, hats off to you Marouane. You never bent or waivered in your desire to play for United. And you’ve done it your way. And finally, you’ve found your place in the squad, and the team. Your manager values you, your team mates appreciate you and the fans are behind you. The trade in afro wigs outside the ground might finally pick up again. I’m glad you never went to Turkey, it just wouldn’t be the same without you.