The deriding of Marouane Fellaini is understandable, but the Belgian has gotten the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the blame for the lack of success at Manchester United.
Marouane Fellaini had an ignominious start to his Manchester United career, but like the chaos that surrounded him at the club, he could hardly be blamed for it.
The beanpole Belgium agreed to join up with his former Everton boss David Moyes at Old Trafford in 2013 for £27.5 million, but the deal was more expensive than it should have been. The player’s contract had a buyout clause of £23.5m which expired on July 31 that year, but United waited until the final minutes of the transfer window to get his signature.
On the same day a group of impostors posing as Man United lawyers rocked up at Athletic Club in Bilbao ready to make a deal for Ander Herrera to head to Manchester in one of the biggest deadline day farces in recent memory. The post-Fergie era looked like a slapstick operation, and Fellaini, a signing made in desperation by the club, would never be able to wash the taint off his skin.
Fellaini’s is not just a case of death by association though. With the midfielder seemingly destined for China this week, he has now been at United for longer than he was with the Toffees, yet he has played less games, scored less goals, and been less effective. At his Evertonian best he was a wrecking ball, causing havoc in opposition penalty areas and destroying rival midfielders with great abandon.
Man United fans never saw that side of him nearly enough, instead they bore witness to his infamous flying elbows, like that of an intense violinist but without the sweet-sounding music to accompany it. In the attacking phase he never contributed in transition or in the box as hoped, resembling an overbearing stick man for the most part. At Goodison he was a crowd favourite, but as the United faithful shuttled along Sir Matt Busby Way after most home games that season the murmurings of discontent usually centred around one player.
Whether or not Fellaini was quite so deserving of so much of the flak over the past five and a half years is debatable. His general play was perhaps not up to scratch for a side with ambitions of winning league titles, but he had a role under every permanent manager he has had at the club and he did it just fine. “Just fine” doesn’t seem to exist in the United lexicon, but each one of Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and José Mourinho found a place in their team for him, and he performed that job to the level expected.
It was never spectacular, it was hardly going to set pulses racing, but in reality he was never going to do anything else. On more than one occasion, it shouldn’t be forgotten, he also saved the team’s bacon in the dying embers of a game. A very useful battering ram when needed, Fellaini tended to find himself coming off the bench when the side were in need of a goal, allowing United to play more directly with time running out. His most recent salvage job saw him rescue the club’s Champions League campaign with a late winner against Young Boys in December, a moment better remembered for Mourinho’s bottle-thrashing implosion.
It’s hard to conceive of any universe in which Fellaini became a United success story, but arriving when he did meant he was always going to be associated with the stagnation that followed Alex Ferguson’s retirement. He won’t be too upset about how it’s turned out though, as he jets off in the Chinese sunset about to become one of the best paid players in the world.