It was the proverbial transfer deadline day of the 2008/09 Premier League season when many Everton fans rose from disappointment the night before to confusion and excitement the next morning. One of the most prominent tags that comes with the football club is the “lack of resources” or the “tight budget constraints” that managers have to work under with the Toffees, thus when fans woke up to hear that a certain Marouane Fellaini, a man unknown to most of the fan base at the time, had signed from then-Belgium League champions Standard Liege for £15m, attributing the word ‘confusion’ is probably an understatement to how the fans felt.
Just who was this man people asked? But that’s when the excitement kicked in. Everton had finally signed somebody for the new season, for a great sum of money, replacing Yakubu as the club’s new record fee.
But looking back now on the situation, Fellaini, at that time, was part of an unnoticed crop of Belgian stars that would later go onto become many people’s underdogs for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The 25-year-old caught the eye of David Moyes for his man-marking job on Steven Gerrard, who was at the peak of powers at the time. Standard Liege drew Liverpool in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League qualifying stages and Fellaini completely blocked any threat coming from the Reds captain and it wasn’t until the 118th minute that Dirk Kuyt’s strike sent Everton’s neighbours into raptures and Fellaini’s side were left heartbroken, although unbeknownst to him, he was about to secure a move that would put his name on the map in football.
Standard Liege would miss Fellaini but after suffering defeat in Europe’s top club competition, the Belgian outfit then drew Everton in a freak draw in the UEFA Cup qualifying stages that year. Fellaini, unable to play for his new club after competing in the Liverpool tie, saw his old side containing the likes of Axel Witsel, Steven Defour and Dieumerci Mbokani, grab a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park before winning the resulting leg 2-1, dumping the Toffees out.
Despite the European exit, Fellaini would go on to become a firm fan favourite that same season, as Everton defeated Macclesfield, Liverpool, top-four at the time Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and then Manchester United to reach the FA Cup final, with new-signing Fellaini forming a strong partnership with Tim Cahill.
Not only because of his size, presence and variety of celebrations, Fellaini’s infamous afro went down well with supporters and floods of shops in the area took to selling ‘Fellaini Wigs’ as a sign of belonging. Fellaini scored nine goals in all competitions that season but the most important came against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup Quarter-Final at Goodison. After being newly-built not long before, Everton had the chance to compete for a major trophy at the new Wembley but were behind at home thanks to a David Wheater header. Everton looked down-and-out but a hopeless ball pumped in towards the big man saw his header loop over Boro’ keeper, Brad Jones and got Everton back level.
The famous Gwladys Street stand, in fact the whole stadium, went crazy and not long after, Louis Saha grabbed the headlines to send the Blues to Wembley but it was Fellaini’s header that installed the hope that seemed lost and he will never be forgotten for that moment.
Fellaini, signed as a holding midfielder, was pushed further forward by Moyes due to injuries to strikers and in the last few seasons, has operated as a defensive anchor. But this season, Moyes recaptured Fellaini’s form, once more baffling pundits in deciphering where his best position is, and Fellaini was electric for the first few months of the season, playing just behind Nikica Jelavic. The opening day 1-0 victory over Manchester United typified how good he can be upfront and his sheer power gave United no time to think or settle, as he was causing too many problems for Ferguson’s side to cope with. Fellaini headed the winner in what was an uncharacteristic start to the season, as Everton were out of the blocks in a season for the first time in years and Fellaini’s form was key to that occurrence.
When the balls for the FA Cup Quarter-Final draw were emptied into the pot, as eight sets of supporters around the country sat with anticipation, you can’t blame Everton fans for feeling confident when they were drawn a home tie against Wigan Athletic, who were in the bottom three of the Premier League.
It was all set-up for another Fellaini moment in the FA Cup but instead, it proved to be a disastrous opposite. Everton didn’t play well, and although that was partly due to how hungry Wigan were, all eleven players for Everton were poor and as the old quote says, they were ‘not up for the cup’ on the day. But it was a crucial blow that the red-hot Fellaini that Everton fans were treated to all season was being cancelled out and didn’t have any effect on the game at all. His performance was singled out by the fans due to one instance where he appeared to give up and as a result, he was booed off the pitch by an angry and embarrassed set of supporters that stayed to watch the second half.
And as good as he has been since his arrival, Everton fans have had to put up with a few different sides to the Belgian, which are the unprofessional and the quite controversial that comes with the talent. On numerous occasions, Fellaini has been quoted in just about every paper under the sun as saying he wants to play in the UEFA Champions League but is settled. Although he isn’t wrong in a way, it’s the sheer amount stories that crop up and it’s almost as if he brings the speculation upon himself and is too nice, as he later comes out and apologises for being ‘misquoted.’
Fellaini has also shown his nasty side in the past, with the most notable being when he headbutted and punched Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross back in November for being held in the box. Although Stoke’s rough style of play is a stain on the English game, Everton, chasing European football all season, would then have to face three games without him in the side, which he didn’t think about before he acted. Also, in 2009, Fellaini was seen elbowing Michael Turner in his Hull City days and was not caught by the referee, which has spoilt his reputation with the neutrals.
A recent survey on an Everton Facebook page this week asked supporters would they accept the £22m believed to be Fellaini’s release clause and the majority of the fans said ‘yes’ for the various reasons which have been discussed. He’s a very good player, but considering he is 25 and Everton paid £15m, his next club is likely to sign him on a five-year-deal or more, thus his sell-on value won’t be any more than that, as they’d have to pay £30-40m and he isn’t worth that.
Everton have been linked with the less controversial Leroy Fer from FC Twente recently, who has on numerous times hinted at a move to England, in particular with Everton, this summer for as little as £8m. If Fer can join the club through Fellaini’s departure, added with a bit of change, the sixth-place money, the new TV deal that benefits all Premier League sides, and the “couple of quid” Roberto Martinez has been promised, Everton would be able to invest in players that can play the new way Martinez wants to enforce.
The only major club linked with signing Fellaini is Arsenal, who are understood to be considering the weight of the price and what position he will play. Fellaini is a good, strong holding midfielder too but whether the Gunners need a player of his ilk divides opinion.
A great servant, a character and a phenomenal player that can, at times, overshadow the negatives. Even if a bid comes in, Everton cannot reject it but although the money on paper could be used well, Fellaini could also be a crucial player for Martinez’s new philosophy which worked at Wigan, but lacked a defensive player in midfield this season through the absence of Mohamed Diamé , who left for West Ham.
Roberto Martinez today said he has “begun” searching for new recruits and they need to have the right DNA for what he is trying to build at Everton. Whether Marouane Fellaini will be there to welcome any new arrivals remains out in the open for now.