When Ryan Giggs became the interim manager and put out his first starting 11 against Norwich, one of the obvious names that failed to even make the bench was the £27.5-million worth Belgian Marouane Fellaini. Arriving on the deadline day as the chaotic summer window closed, the wig sellers in and around Sir Matt Busby way were particularly thrilled, hurriedly importing dozens of afro wigs in the hope of making the most of his arrival.
What made Manchester United go after and eventually buy Fellaini? Everyone knows he was not anywhere near the top of the fans’ to-buy list or even the then new-manager David Moyes’ player wishlist. Fellaini, in his late Everton years, has excelled against Manchester United, one must say. That goal in the fatal 4-4 draw at Old Trafford in 2012 that cost United the title, the opening game of the following season where Fellaini was head and shoulders above (literally) Manchester United’s midfield and even managed to cap his performance off with a memorable winner. He went on to score 10 more league goals that season, almost outscoring Sir Alex Ferguson’s entire title-winning midfield. In a nutshell, he had been excellent against United but has he been able to replicate the same form when he played for them?
So, let me reiterate the question, what made David Moyes buy Fellaini and what did he see in him that made him think the Belgian would fit into Manchester United’s style of play? Besides the obvious Everton stint, where both had enjoyed a relatively more successful period, Moyes must have identified him as adding steel and bite to the Reds engine room, something they have lacked since the departure of Roy Keane. Fellaini’s biggest plus for his former boss was that the new United boss did not have to go through the stifling slow process of due diligence that was part of Moyes’ downfall in the swift moving transfer market. He was an easy target for Moyes. But then again, he was also the stick Moyes was beaten up with, and use as an example of how he did not get to grips with the enormity of the Old Trafford job.
If we look into his final season at Merseyside, arguably his best showing in the league, one should come to terms with the fact that he was playing just behind the striker or the fancy number 10 role as we would call it. In his final season with Everton he was given the complete leverage to roam around in the final third, while the rest were made to kick the ball around him according to his movements. Everton played those typical long balls and were hoofing the ball up half the time to Fellaini while he would catch them with his chest in mid air and make something out of it. In this manner he’s managed to create a total of 40 chances for Everton in that season while an year later he would limit this number to an eighth of it, with 5. He attempted a total of 65 shots at goal in 2012/13 season with 35 on target which is twice the amount of shots he’s taken in total in the following year. Above all, Marouane enjoyed his best goal-scoring season with Everton in 2012/13 scoring 11 goals compared to none in the following year.
Though Fellaini missed half the season suffering a wrist injury starting just 12 games compared to the 31 he started the previous year, the lack of creativity could be attributed to his more deeper role in his new club. His deeper role at his new club could also be justified as the club has already been spoiled with players that could offer more than Fellaini behind the frontman in Rooney, Kagawa, Mata and even Adnan. Talking about his ability to tackle and muscle players off the ball, he looked like he was the real deal in his final season with Everton. A tackle success rate of 74% with Everton which would drop to 70% in the following season while the aerial 50-50 win percentage rate would also drop from 60% to 54%, goes on to show his lack of confidence off the ball as well. Fellaini quite simply failed in everything he excelled the previous season.
Fellaini’s biggest problem was that United had made it very public last summer they were attempting to lure skillful play-makers Cesc Fabregas or Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona. Also they never denied they were in the market for Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale which came as an added pressure to Fellaini, being the only ‘big signing’ of that window, a pressure he hasn’t been able to cope with until now. It’s a dodgy situation with Moyes relieved of his duties and whether the newly appointed Louis Van Gaal has him in his plans remains to be seen.
In the end, the capture of Fellaini was a bit like dipping into your Christmas sack having been promised an ‘Apple’ product to discover there was only a tangerine. Stranger things have happened though. Fellaini in a United shirt for one some might say.