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The Rollercoaster Ride that is Marouane Fellaini

Marouane Fellaini was the first ‘big name’ bought in by David Moyes and arrived under both excitement and confusion in a very unsuccessful and almost embarrassing summer for United, the first without Sir Alex Ferguson or David Gill. It seemed as if Ed Woodward was completely lost in his new role and after links with some of the biggest names around Europe, the only big deal to happen was marred by uncertainty and slip ups. United waited until after Fellaini’s buyout clause had expired and in what seemed like a panic buy after missing out on other top targets they paid over the expired clause to bring in the Belgian.

Many fans were excited at the arrival of a big strong midfielder, the type of player United had been missing for some time, and Fellaini himself had just had the season of his career at Everton under Moyes. 12 goals in 36 games had gained Fellaini a good reputation in England as someone who could cause a team damage but he was being played further forward in almost a number 10 role by Moyes at times. After his switch to United, he was not only being asked to step up a level but also to move positions to a more holding role as a midfield destroyer. The excitement around Fellaini quickly started to fade and since then things have been very up and down at United for him. In the 2016/17 season, he has experienced probably both the high and low points of his United career within just a few months of each other.

Over the summer many expected Fellaini to be one of the names to depart United. It was surprising that it hadn’t happened earlier under Van Gaal but it was believed that under Mourinho his time was finally going to be up. Instead, quite the opposite happened with Mourinho contacting Fellaini over the summer to provide a confidence boost and assure him that he was part of his plans for the season. Jose followed through on this starting Fellaini in the first six games of the season including the Community Shield victory. He has since gone on to feature in 29 of the next 43 games although often used as a substitute.

In what was a successful start to the season for United it looked as if the fortunes of the club and Fellaini were on the up. He looked more confident and sharper on and off the ball gaining praise for his more composed and assured performances. This soon started to change for the big man in the middle. He started finding himself more often than not on the bench being brought on in the second half to try to shut things out. He was being brought on in times when United were sitting back and trying to absorb pressure and hold on to games. Fellaini began to look clumsier, less mobile and less reliable and in December, after the club had experienced a run of frustrating draws and points dropped, Fellaini’s darkest hour came.

With United 0-1 up against Everton in a closely fought game, Mourinho decided to bring on Fellaini in the 85th minute to close out the win. Just three minutes later, against his former club, Fellaini recklessly lunged into a challenge and gave away a penalty. United could have no complaints and Everton equalised costing the reds another two points after a string of points dropped in games that United should have won. The fans had enough of trying to shut out games and with Fellaini often being brought on to do this he became the focus of supporters’ frustrations and just one week later at Old Trafford the Belgian was booed by his own fans as he entered the pitch. This must truly have been rock bottom for him at United and many tipped him to leave in the January transfer window which was just weeks away, but once again his story took another turn.

During January, rather than being sent packing, Fellaini was given a lifeline and strong show of support by the club with a contract extension. This came as a surprise and for the man himself must have been a significant gesture psychologically. He clearly had the favour of his manager and the brief period of descent from the fans could no longer be heard although he still certainly wasn’t a fan favourite.

His first goal of the season also came in January in the EFL cup semi-final against Hull city. This would prove to be an important goal which would help United on their way to the final of the cup which they would eventually win. His second goal of the season came at the end of the month against Wigan in an FA Cup tie and would cap off a relatively happy month for Fellaini which took a very different path to the one expected in December.

Since January Fellaini has continued to make appearances for Mourinho’s side and grabbed his third goal of the season against Middlesbrough to open the scoring in United’s latest victory. Once again this season he has often been used out of position and asked to perform a defensive role which clearly does not come naturally to him. He is at his best in the opposition box causing problems for defenders rather than standing out of position on the edge of his own box where he is liable to give away cheap free kicks, not pick up his man and slow any sort of counter attack or passing rhythm that United have.

It is hard to say what the future holds for Fellaini as many reports have surfaced linking him with a move away from Old Trafford despite his contract extension. He clearly has support from Mourinho but many sections of the fans would rather see him shipped out than on the pitch for United. With Herrera suspended and Pogba out injured we were likely to see him start United’s next game against West Brom at the weekend but he has reportedly picked up a small injury that may keep him out. He clearly has a unique skill set that many teams could utilise but for a quick, fluid, decisive United squad he is not the man that they need in the middle. His build up play is slow, sluggish and inaccurate and off the ball, he sometimes appears to have the mental maturity of a teenager who has just come onto the scene who doesn’t recognise when to be patient. The future is unclear for Fellaini but with United trying to build a squad of world beaters it would seem that there is little space for this particular Mourinho love affair.

Written by Jack Gadsden

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