Marouane Fellaini: the litmus test for Everton’s ambitions
The eventful Manchester derby and Liverpool’s comeback win against West Ham quite rightly took precedence on Sunday’s Premier League afternoon, but away from the guise of the television cameras, it was Everton making a significant story of their own as a late comeback win over Tottenham saw the Toffees climb up to fourth place.
That means the holy grail of European football, should they stay there of course, and if that occurs, it is likely to be the biggest achievement of David Moyes’s decade in charge at Goodison Park. Even surpassing their fourth placed finish of 2005, now when the importance of the top four is highlighted annually by the desperate scramble for the lucrative position, worth up to £20 million, that last year came down to past the final whistle, but to the very final kick of the season, Didier Drogba’s penalty in Munich which saw Chelsea take Spurs’ Champions League place.
Moyes, who constantly adheres to a strict budget at Everton and this summer, sold Jack Rodwell and Tim Cahill in order to break even on the signings of Kevin Mirallas, Bryan Oviedo and Steven Pienaar, has guided Everton to fourth on a superb run of just two defeats in their opening 16 matches. They have held Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City as well as beating Manchester United and Spurs to raise the possibility that maybe financial prudence and sensible outlay will win out as football mercilessly continues to head down the route of ruthless oligarchs and obscene spending.
Arsenal, despite their problems, have not finished outside of the top four for the past 15 seasons and there is a likelihood they could turn it around to make it a 16th successive year, while Tottenham will also remain in the hunt. In fact, teams right down to Norwich in 12th could be included in the race as the margin is tight to the tune of just four points separating nine clubs. But there is another reason why Everton’s grip on their cherished position will remain eminently vulnerable and it will be the constant eye on the purse strings by the Goodison hierarchy as January looms.
One of the most startling revelations of Everton’s excellent season so far has been the marvellous form of Marouane Fellaini, still the Toffees’ record signing at £15 million, and his eight goals have been integral to the side’s rise up the league. The Belgian has also amassed three assists as his shift to an attack based player has allowed him to link up to good effect with Nikica Jelavic, a partnership that has accounted for 13 of Everton’s 27 goals so far. It is testament to Fellaini’s influence that out of the fourteen Premier League matches he has played this campaign, he has been named man of the match five times.
Speculation had followed Fellaini right from the first weeks of the season when, away with Belgium on international duty, he was reportedly quoted as saying he saw Everton as a stepping stone to a bigger club. He has since denied the report and has endeavoured to play the loyalty card, though the midfielder is not immune to the nature of the beast; a player of Fellaini’s quality in the most productive of form will demand a sizeable fee, to which Everton would be extremely tempted. The media is aware of this and so the rumours will persist, similarly to Manchester United’s reported coveting of Leighton Baines in the summer.
Any potential suitors of Fellaini will not just get a 6ft 4 inch imposing target man, adept at linking the play on the ground as well as in the air, but an impressively mobile defensive midfield destroyer which he spent his first two years at Goodison doing before Moyes advanced him to fill the void left by Tim Cahill.
It is a versatility recently appreciated by Arsene Wenger, who is more more equipped at gauging a player than most:
“He started as a defender, now he is an attacking midfielder and it looks like he will finish centre-forward. he is an intelligent player”.
Should the form continue, Fellaini will be very hot property indeed and despite his worth to Everton as they yearn to hold on to any realistic hopes of Champions League qualification, any possible loss of the Belgian would likely to be disastrous. The 25-year-old has spoke recently of his desire to put personal accolades aside in a quest to help his team to what would be a remarkable venture into the continent, but should Everton decide to cash in on their prized asset in January, then it is likely to be the end of that.
Genuine interest will inevitably come in the new year and Bill Kenwright, David Moyes and co. have an important decision to make, one that could define the past ten years at Goodison Park.
Do Everton have the ambition to journey down the road to European football, or do they boost the coffers and revert back to square one? In a list of departures that includes Wayne Rooney, Joleon Lescott, Jack Rodwell and Mikel Arteta, Everton’s record signing could turn out to be their costliest sale.