Marouane Fellaini: Let's stop trivializing the titanic Belgian
"It’s easier for Galatasaray to get me than Marouane," - Jose Mourinho
This one line signifies the indispensability of the tree-top that Manchester United fans have come to show love for only as they please. But no worries, Marouane Fellaini doesn't ask to be showered with love. He treats the hubbub as bullets that will harden the absolute metal sheet that his chest is. And no doubt, he will drop them on to his feet and surge on ahead, shamelessly hurling those elbows as far as he could.
The number of facepalms he gathers on his way will not shake him- at least, as long as the gaffer stands by the dugout with his hands in his pockets with a smug smile that speaks That's my boy in hushed tones.
Often maligned as the flag-bearer of the mediocrity that United have slipped into in the post-Fergie era, Fellaini could have opted to drop out and 'sock em' at a lesser club where the expectations won't shove him to his knees. But he chose to stay and relish his dream of playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world and curiously enough he is always backed by his managers.
"He is too important for me. No chance!" - Mourinho, again!
At times, when United seem to have lost their way, the Belgian becomes another figure of disappointment. His inability to pull a rabbit out of a hat and the occasionally cloddish methods especially when faced with adverse circumstances has seen him bear the brunt of staunch criticism. I mean, seriously, who wants their central midfielder to prance around inside their own penalty area like a bull in a china shop? Remember Manchester United v Everton at Goodison Park last year?
So what makes him the bully in the backyard you and your lads wished would miss the bus and the baby face that the gaffers cannot stop admiring?
Not just another Fella
There are several reasons that justify Fellaini's presence in the United camp. But let's start with a question. Sweep those careless lunges to a corner of your mind and tell me if you have ever seen Fellaini strolling around the park, disconnected and disinterested in the going-ons around him?
Yeah, the role of a klutz he occasionally assumes has even had me darting expletives of the abhorrent kind but I will never give in to the argument that Fellaini doesn't try hard enough.
He does and he is ready to spill sweat, blood, and even gall for the colours he proudly wears. Fellaini knows he is no Paul Pogba or Ander Herrera. He doesn't leave you biting your fist going HOHOHO. But he is a hundred percent committed to the cause and whatever the manager has whispered in his ear almost plays out very well every single time.
He is content to chip in with a couple of headbutts and uppercuts if the situation so warrants.The quintessential squad player, Fellaini has no qualms about being the one the football brainiacs don't sprinkle gold-dust on in their analysis.
Here's a fact that is bound to leave you popping them eyes- no midfielder, in any of Europe's top five leagues has won more aerial duels than the belligerent Belgian. Spare him some credit for that.
Fellaini leaps with his hands dangling off his sides like ribbons off a pole and rises so far up into the air with a bush specially cultivated atop his head to alleviate the pain of impact. And when the ball is not so far up in the air, he will take it on his chest which is as broad as a playground and kill the ball dead.
Fellaini doubles as a Plan B and gaffers often opt for 20 minutes of the Belgian towards the business end of a match when all the polished plans have fallen apart. His ability to exercise unmatched dominance in the air can often unsettle defences and get United results. Fellaini's own teammates testify to the fact that he is just as uninhibited about walloping in training as he is on the weekends.
Playing rough is embedded in his DNA and soon to be 30 years of age, it is fair to say that no matter how much energy you're going to waste ranting about the dirt, this is the only Fellaini you will get. The filthy tractor that's not easy on the eye but can straight-up plough your land.
Unsurprisingly, this aspect of his game is used by managers to their team's advantage.
The Big Sick
The 29-year-old is not one to go flaccid when a big occasion swings in. The Skookum schmuck that he is, he will swing back and land a few of his own. This is no hollow claim and his record will laugh at your snobby indifference. In the past 3 years, Fellaini has scored a host of extremely important goals for Manchester United.
Under LvG, United became the FA Cup champions and in the semi final matchup against Everton, United fans finally saw Fellaini for what he is. He opened the scoring for United and sprinted towards the crowd before turning around to show his name with a sort of bullishness that screamed Yeah it's the same guy you keep writing off. When Everton triggered a counter attack in the second half, Fellaini was in the opposition's penalty box. He sprinted back to the defensive quartet and put in a delicious last-ditch tackle to deny Everton an equalizer. Why? Because not on my watch, that's why.
When Jose Mourinho led United to the English Football League triumph, Fellaini headed in the winner against Hull City in the semi finals. He repeated the same in the Europa League semi final against Celta Vigo.
Those are not the only places he's come good at. When high-pressing teams like Liverpool come ready to run United ragged, Fellaini will step in to cause chaos by constantly breaking up play and shooting their momentum in the temple. When it becomes increasingly difficult to pass the ball around, teams have the tendency to switch to sky the ball over several yards and I'll let you guess who comes in handy there.
More often than not, squad players are as good as the managers. Credit should be given to the tactical master class that Mourinho is as he can set his team up against specific oppositions and get it spot on more often than not. Against Ajax, United were playing the Europa Cup final to ensure a place in Europe's elite competition, the UEFA Champions League. And Fellaini was instantly chosen as United's attacking outlet.
The plan was to float long balls to the big man who had a physical advantage over Ajax midfielder Schöne, who was marking him. Also, once again, floating long balls keeps the United players from getting zonked by Ajax's pressing.
So the Ajax players started swarming around Fellaini which freed up Valencia on the right flank. The right back's pace proved too much to handle and Ajax were finding life difficult in the center and on the wing. Soon enough, United won a ball on the right flank and Mata found Fellaini who then freed up Pogba for the opener.
The tree bore fruit. And it was as tasty as they could've come for Mourinho's United who are desperate to re-establish their place in Europe.
Against Real Madrid in the recent UEFA Super Cup match, it was Fellaini's introduction and agricultural savagery that broke Madrid's flow and helped United get a goal back.
No, he's not the creative force around which you build a team. No, he doesn't possess the quick feet to disco around Premier League's finest. When you take these skills away, the player just becomes less flashy. And it's difficult to see a player as United's own if he doesn't wow you aplenty. But if you are willing to give efficiency a chance over eye-candy, you'll see why Fellaini's inclusion is more and more justified. Fellaini will gain you yards which will otherwise take a bucketful of sweat to reach.
Slowly, but surely, United fans are getting behind the big Belgian. The constant Oh-Why-Fellaini rhetoric that used to follow his inclusion in the first XI is gradually reaching the Jose's- got-a-plan coast.
The Bouncer of Old Trafford
Out of all the occasions on which Manchester United have missed having Fellaini on the field, it is, perhaps, the home game against Arsenal last season that needs a mention. United dominated Arsenal for the better part of the game. Juan Mata netted a goal and it was always on the cards. But the Red Devils could not find another goal and went into the last 10 minutes with a slender lead and no room for comfort.
What Arsene Wenger did is to deploy Fellaini's Arsenal counterpart Olivier Giroud into the final third to use his nob to salvage a point for the Gunners. With no Fellaini to provide aerial support in the defensive third, Giroud didn't face much of a challenge in finishing off a Chamberlain cross. But nobody said they missed the bouncer of Old Trafford simply because his absence is not frowned upon by the layman.
Life has been a box of mostly outdated chocolates for the big man. When he sealed a move to United, the club was at the threshold of a transition phase. David Moyes, the "Chosen One' almost drove the stable to the ground. Fellaini, under the pressure of a £25m price tag and the fact that he was the only high-profile signing, did the bare minimum in his outings and got dragged through the mud. First impression is a b**ch.
Now United have sorted out their problems in the center. With the arrivals of Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba, United have upgraded their midfield to world-class. So much so that even Ander Herrera will see his opportunities cut short. But that seems okay to Fellaini. He knows he will have a significant role to play and while he's not revered by the stands, he has found fresh admiration among the Old Trafford faithful. That he has kept his sense of humour in tact has helped him sail through troubled waters.
Marouane Fellaini is not sea-sick anymore. He is one of the most experienced lads in the United squad. More importantly, Fella knows his place. And he knows that when the big bad wolves come knocking with twin barrels, Mourinho will trust no one but him to open the door with a You want some, come get some.
That faith will drive the Belgian forward. And he will proudly relish his role as the big bad bully of Old Trafford you just cannot clamp down on.