Marouane Fellaini’s transfer from Everton and the season that followed under David Moyes has been under severe scrutiny by the media and fans alike. After a summer that constantly speculated the Belgian’s future at the club, the 27 year old has now found his feet under the new manager, Louis van Gaal. Rwiddhi Chakraborty throws light on the resurgence of the 27 million pound man.
It is worth noting that a player, who was rejected to the sidelines for the major part of last season for his poor form, has actually succeeded in making a strong comeback into one of the most competitive leagues in the world, for one of the finest clubs in the world. Sport does provided individuals such opportunities to redeem themselves, but considering the fact that the individual concerned made a comeback in the same team in the same league is highly praiseworthy.
Under David Moyes, Manchester United Football Club had been reduced to an embarrassment, resulting in hugely popular internet jokes, and an ever tumultuous performance in Wall Street. Moyes had been assured that he had time in his hands. However, with managing a club like Manchester United, there arises the added baggage of expectations, and subsequently immense scrutiny.
The transfer of Marouane Fellaini was a controversial one. His release clause had a deadline of 22nd August. For reasons best known to Moyes and his staff, the necessary documents couldn’t be procured, resulting in an unnecessary delay. Fellaini was ultimately bought for 27 million pounds; United ending up paying 5 million more than his actual price. This purchase, notwithstanding Fellaini’s wonderful performances the season before, was deemed overpriced, and perhaps one is inclined to agree with it.
However, all whispers of discontentment would have been abolished had Fellaini played a stellar role in midfield, and here the trouble began. Under Moyes, Fellaini was deployed as central midfielder, traditional by all means. Amidst the confusion, Moyes had probably forgotten how Fellaini had shined in his past career at Everton. Fellaini thrives on freedom of positions. He loves to get himself into the final third if he judges the team needs an attacking mindset; and simultaneously tracks back, playing as a CDM. Fellaini may not be an out an out box-to-box midfielder per se, but he has all the traits of one—and all the qualities of a good one. Unfortunately, these facets of his talents were overlooked under Moyes. He was deployed as only a central midfielder, with no flexibility whatsoever, which resulted in both his loss and United’s. Moyes failed to see what an asset Fellaini could have become had been given a bit more freedom, a bit more flexibility in his game.
Sadly, all these areas were never covered, and Fellaini became a largely unused player in the season. The times he did play, he disappointed, and one could see his frustration. Remember the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, where Fellaini elbowed City’s Pablo Zabaleta? He was lucky to have escaped without a sending off. His performance in that match reached a new low, prompting a journalist of “The Telegraph” to brand him as a “headless chicken, running around Yaya Toure without any clue whatsoever.” However harsh it may seem, the Fellaini-Toure battle had raised expectations, since both players are hard working, strong and good technicians. The expectations fell flat, of course, as Toure dominated the midfield, helping City win 3-0. One wonders how the game would have changed had Moyes deployed Fellaini with more freedom.
Another justification of Fellaini’s poor show last season was the performance of players around him. Barring Wayne Rooney, the visceral United front man, and David De Gea, no one looked quite up to the same standards of the team which had snatched the title away from City the year before. Nemanja Vidic wasn’t the same after the horrific injury he’d suffered at Basel. Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, all stars of their time, had slowly accepted the fact that they were ageing. The physical demands of the Premier League had caught up with them.
In the attacking front, Robin Van Persie was haplessly out of form, a shadow of the same man who scored more than 30 goals the season before. There was no innovative wide man in United’s team—players Fellaini could exploit while United attacked. To be truthful, until Mata arrived in January, United didn’t really seem capable of scoring multiple goals in a single match. Fellaini expectedly was made the scapegoat. Nobody considered the fact for once, that albeit his poor form, the others never really offered anything that could have helped him in redeeming himself. Hence, the season rolled on, and Fellaini was reduced to a mere spectator from the sidelines.
Cut to July 2014, when United announced Louis Van Gaal, the veteran manager would take over, leading many to question whether some players would remain in the team. Fellaini’s name was discussed time and again, and with the purchase of midfielder Daley Blind, everyone thought it was only a matter of time till Fellaini was sold.
Nothing of that sort happened. Van Gaal had obviously seen something in the player which Moyes had not. Fellaini’s one asset, overlooked by Moyes, and stressed continuously in this article, is his versatility. This asset did not escape the experienced eyes of Van Gaal.
Fellaini’s redemption came at the stroke of the hour mark at The Hawthornes. United were trailing 0-2 to West Bromwich Albion and it was here that Van Gaal decided to send Marouane Fellaini into the fray. His orders? Attack any aerial ball, push up, and press hard. Fellaini fit the role perfectly. His golden moment came when he immaculately chested a stray long ball, and smashed a volley into the top left corner, beyond goalkeeper Ben Foster. Finally, Fellaini’s time had come. Although the match ended 2-2, it was a new beginning for the Belgian.
In the subsequent matches, in a 4-2-3-1 formation (after the experimental 3-5-2 did not work), Blind and Fellaini were deployed as holding midfielders, with both given the license to push up and create attacking opportunities in case the team was trailing. After the return of Michael Carrick, Fellaini’s versatility was proven with full effect, as Van Gaal immediately pushed him higher up the field, where he accompanied Angel Di Maria, who was playing as an unorthodox attacking midfielder, and Rooney, who’d made the hole his position, with Van Persie up front. Fellaini was spoilt for choice. Playing with technicians of the calibre of Rooney and Di Maria, Fellaini flourished again. He pressed hard, won balls at the higher end of the park, and his long balls proved a constant threat to every opposition.
This time around, Fellaini was a potent force in United’s major games. He was influential in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Old Trafford, and in the Manchester derby at the Etihad, where United fought bravely, playing against City with 10 men. This time around, Fellaini proved to be tough competition to Yaya Toure, and one could see exactly how and why.
One must congratulate Louis Van Gaal, who identified the player’s strengths and weaknesses. There is no doubt that behind Fellaini’s comeback, there lay a role of one of the staunchest managers in world football.
Marouane Fellaini is back at what he does best. Manchester United, after a stuttering start to the season, have finally attained some momentum. Along with the likes of Rooney, Blind, Di Maria, Fellaini is certainly one of the prime performers for the club. One can only see him get better. He’s got the motivation and the hunger to keep performing.
Long gone are the days where this man’s career at one of the most celebrated clubs in world football lay in serious doubt. For Fellaini, the only way now, is forward.
Written by Rwiddhi Chakraborty