In a team that boasts the attacking prowess of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria, I for one don’t think many would have envisaged the afro-sporting Belgian scoring the vital winning goal that would ultimately take Manchester United to where they wanted to be at the start of next season, not even the hipsters in twitter you come across, every now and then. Often the scapegoat in a completely catastrophic last season for fans to vent their frustrations and anger out at, something, that Fellaini himself has acknowledged in his recent interview where he talked at length about the sacking of David Moyes and his own injury plagued season to forget under the Scot; also how he’s turned the tables at Manchester United in 12 months and who has now risen to a position where’s he deemed undroppable by the manager himself.
The Belgium international said,
“During my first season at Manchester, the team was not performing and I was the scapegoat. Everything was Fellaini’s fault. If you pay attention to all this, you sink. It destroyed me on every side. I knew it was going to be difficult when he [Van Gaal] arrived because I was the scapegoat last season. So I told myself I had nothing to lose.”
To be fair to him, he had nothing to lose at the start of a season which in a way, tempered the expectations of the fans so much so that many of them wanted him out of the club as much as the Scot before the start of the new season, but it looks Louis Van Gaal has clearly seen something in the player that would make him a success at United, that Moyes did (or not?) and the fans failed to, or were rather blind to, more like.
It’s nothing short of a transformation to a pleasantly surprising extent which has seen Fellaini score, help his team score and win games on a regular basis in his mostly eventful 25 appearances. Marouane has so far found the net six times in the league, as opposed to none in the previous season although he’s still quite far from his best season scoring wise when he scored 11 goals for Everton under Moyes, predominantly playing as a second striker. Louis Van Gaal has entrusted the Belgian with a similar attacking role at Manchester United where he often finds himself lurking at the far post when the wide players receive the ball while also helping his team out when not in possession, getting himself about in the middle, in areas close to the attacking third in a pursuit to win the ball back.
As for his defensive duties, Fellaini has put his best asset to very good use in this campaign – his strength in the air. He’s managed to win a staggering 102 out of 173 aerial duels which amounts to a 60% success rate and also a remarkable 45% tackle success ratio, shows the Dutch manager has been able to get the most of the Belgian’s abilities, strangely, more than what David Moyes could do at United, having managed him for about 6 years at Everton and Manchester United.
But what has made Fellaini so important in this Man United team is how he offers the club, a different and oftentimes an indefensible attacking outlet and one that’s proved to be a telling difference, contributing to a match-winning goal, or a goal that keeps them alive in the game as much as an outstretched save from De Gea. It’s interesting when you look at the breakdown of his league goals right from the first he scored for the club, coming off the bench, against West Bromwich Albion; a vital equalizer which would be not be the last this season.
Against West Brom – 1-1*
Against Stoke City – 1*-0
Against QPR – 0-1*
Against Spurs – 1*-0
Against Man City 2*-1
Against Crystal Palace – 1-2*
*Change in the scoreline after Fellaini’s goal.
Most of those goals have been scored at crucial stages: an equalizer when the team is dying for one, an opener to set the tone of the game like the one he scored against Stoke, Spurs and QPR while a match-winning goal came against Palace which eventually secured (almost) a fourth place finish for United to take them back to playing in the Champions League. The 27-year old, after all the criticism he faced last season, might feel relieved above all after proving himself at United, and showing he could cut it at the top when rightly used, which certainly wasn’t the case last campaign.
Now the burning question is where does he go from here after helping his club achieve what it set out to achieve at the start of the season? With another summer of lavish spending set to take place it is likely that Fellaini’s role could be limited at the club in the future but there is little doubt that he would still prove to come in handy next season with the club likely to compete in four different competitions across Europe. But the renaissance of the Belgian, much like Belgium’s Renaissance in the 16th century, will be remembered for a long time for being one of the main reasons for Manchester United’s own renaissance after a disastrous season, if not the ultimate reason.