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Marouane Fellaini: The man who gave it his all and got nothing in return

Deadline day 2013, what a day that was. From failing to sign Fabio Coentrao on loan to Ander Herrera’s ‘representatives’ being anywhere but at Old Trafford, it was all a sign of things to come that season. The transfer window took an even stranger twist with a last-minute bid for Everton duo Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini. ‘Fellaini?! We’re actually going through with that?’ I remember telling my friend at Oliver Reed’s last pub, half drunk and not making much sense at that point. We and many others later started calling him “Our tree”.

Inevitably Manchester United signed just Marouane Fellaini without Leighton Baines and gave him the number 31, it was safe to say there was nothing extraordinary about signing the lanky Belgian midfielder, well apart from his hairstyle that is. Life at United proved difficult at the start for Fellaini, especially after Manchester City putting United to sword 4-1 and Yaya Toure and Fernandinho making short work of the United midfield.

Everything after that match went downhill, David Moyes was sacked and United finished a miserable seventh place. It’s easy to understand why Fellaini is so synonymous with that season, he suffered a difficult first season, was perceived to be a panic buy and he was brought in by a manager that took United from a club that were the champions to mid-table. It looked like the Belgian’s stay at Manchester United wouldn’t be that much longer than that of the man who brought him to the club.

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We were all wrong, Louis van Gaal was appointed that summer and Fellaini’s career at United seemed to take a turn for the better with the Dutch manager taking a liking the player and inevitably so did his successor. Looking through Twitter these past few days to see what the general feeling was about Fellaini leaving, hoping to see a few tributes to a player who acted professionally at United and gave his all.

I was wrong, what I saw baffled me and had me seething with anger at how little respect (if any) United fans have for a player who scored vital goals for the club over these past four years such as his winner against Crystal Palace in 2015 putting United a win away from returning to Champions League football. Fellaini also scored three semi-final goals including one in the Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo which put United through to the final and saw them win the trophy for the first time.

It’s also safe to say that without Fellaini, United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would not be preparing to take on Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League after his last gasp goal against Young Boys at Old Trafford last November. Fellaini was never the most glamourous of players, but he tried his best to contribute to the cause every time he came on and wore the United shirt, irrespective of who was the manager and what instructions he was given.

The level of abuse and disrespect aimed at Fellaini over the last few days has been baffling, to say the least, some of it, ironically enough, even coming from profiles with a picture Paul Pogba (along with Luke Shaw) as their avatar, a player who in my eyes could be accused of downing tools because he didn’t see eye to eye with Jose Mourinho and his methods. Not to mention the drama his agent Mino Raiola caused when he offered Pogba to Manchester City.

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Maybe it’s because Fellaini doesn’t have the social media presence players like Pogba have or maybe it’s because most United fans see him as an easy scapegoat for all that went wrong after Sir Alex Ferguson resigned in 2013, even if these are the reasons they still are unjustified for a player that always gave his best in a United shirt and contributed to the club winning what little silverware they won over the past three years.

It’s sad to see the club let go of a character like Fellaini, a character that rarely gave in, fought hard, wasn’t easily pushed around and unselfish to teammates One story that comes to mind is when Fellaini gave up his number 31 shirt to Bastian Schweinsteiger, why? Because it meant a lot to Schweinsteiger and it helped him settle in better, that’s just the sort of guy Fellaini was and that is just the sort of character Manchester United have lost, a player that puts his teammates first.

It’s going to be strange not seeing Fellaini coming on anymore, and yeah, I’ll miss his tenacity and fighting spirit especially when United are down and need a goal out of nothing. One thing’s for sure, now with both Mourinho and Fellaini gone, the list of scapegoats at Old Trafford has grown shorter and people that unjustly escaped any form of blame in the past might not be so lucky if things turn sour again. Goodbye, ‘Our Tree’ it’s been a pleasure seeing you in a red shirt.

Written by John Grech

Matteo Darmian to have Manchester United contract extended before leaving the club this month

Manchester United have reportedly activated the additional one-year option in the contract of Italian defender Matteo Darmian. James Robson of The Standard has confirmed this after it was revealed earlier in that day that Darmian was a transfer target for Juventus this month. Darmian was signed by United in the summer of 2015, under the leadership of Louis van Gaal, for just £12.7 million and now there is a chance that United could receive that figure, or more, in a potential transfer.

Earlier on Sunday, it was reported in Italy, initially by TMW that Juventus has reached an agreement with United for Darmian on loan with a purchase option. Calciomercato has reported the same but added that the loan deal with cost Juventus €3 million with the option to buy a further €8 million. It was suggested in the reports in Italy that United would need to extend the contract of Darmian, adding the further year that was stipulated in his contract as otherwise, he would be a free agent in June.

Obviously, the reported fees in the Italian media may not be correct. United could demand a fee for the loan spell, adding a purchase clause in the summer, when Darmian would most likely leave the club permanently unless this is going to be a permanent departure this month. At 29 and lacking first team opportunities, this move would make sense for both Darmian and Juventus. The player is still a full international for his country, which would make sense.

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It is a shame that Darmian did not fit what United needed. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be the third manager he has played under at United and despite the fact his initial start under Van Gaal was a good one, he soon lost form, confidence and any sense of playing consistently under the veteran Dutch manager. Under Jose Mourinho, who was sacked in December, Darmian had little game time, often playing as the left-back in place of Luke Shaw and rarely playing in his favoured position.

United are in a position whereby a new manager will be coming in during the summer, whether this is Solskjaer permanently or another candidate is yet to be known. Because of this, it is for the best reason that United aim to get rid of those who they can get rid of in January or even at the start of the summer transfer window, which will give finds and a much clearer squad for the new manager to get to grips with, bringing in players they want to rebuild the club with, also getting rid of other players who have no future.

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Darmian has remained a professional player at the Old Trafford club, despite not playing regularly. This season he has made six appearances, five for 90 minutes, coming on at the death in the 2-1 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday. There has been no moaning or discontent from the Italian international, even in the summer when reports were rife that he would be departing from Manchester.

The positive part of this is that United are now seeking to get value from departing players. For years we have seen some decent players leave the club for a pittance of a transfer fee; Rafael da Silva to Lyon for instance. The move to extend the player’s contract, meaning that he could spend another year in Manchester means that Juventus or any other interested parties would need to pay a considerable fee to get the player, which is how it should be in the first place.

If United are convinced to leat Darmian leave the club on loan, it will have to be on their terms. It is not right that Juventus could get six months or so out of the player then send him back to Old Trafford as soon as the summer comes. United will need to negotiate in their favour, ensuring that any loan deal will result in a permanent deal in the summer. Juventus have been interested in the player for some time now and they should have decided whether they want him permanently, if not I am sure there will be other options.

copyright: JW