A lot has been said about the Belgium international ever since he joined Manchester United from Everton in the summer of 2013, under David Moyes, his former manager at the Merseyside. One could hear the moans and grunts among the United’s faithful as a result of that deal but the big Belgium stayed true to his fighting nature and gradually warmed up to the fans and has become the go-to man every time a bail-out is needed.
The nicely taken injury-time winning goal against the Swiss side Young Boys, in the Champions League was yet another example of his hardiness and mental fortitude and, not for the first time in his United career and surely not for the first manager in Jose Mourinho.
Fellaini’s very first goal for his new team against West Bromwich Albion away in October 2014 under Louise Van Gaal typified his reputation. The Red Devils were down by a goal inside the ten minutes of the game only for the Belgium to be thrown into the mix by his manager in order to look for an equaliser.
Despite having the technicians of Di Maria, RVP and Juan Mata’s’ quality on the pitch that day, it was Fellaini who rose the highest with his trademark chest control, went around the defender with the outside of his right foot for a thumping finish. The goal proved vital as the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
It was just the start of many brilliant performances that were to follow. The ever under-scrutiny, van Gaal, had his toughest time as a United manager in the months of March and April of 2014-15 season. United were to play Spurs and the blue half of Manchester at home and, Chelsea and their arch rivals Liverpool, away.
At the time, all those opponents looked better and sniffed victory. But, the big United target man wasn’t having any of that. He set the tone against Spurs by opening the scoring, played a blinder in the midfield at Anfield and scored again against their noisy neighbours, United winning all three games, losing only to Chelsea.
Winning FA Cup in LVG’s last season at United in 2015-16 season is one of the very few things that has made the fans happy since the departure of Alex Fergusson. And, the Belgium was right in the thick of the action especially, in the knock-out phases. The Red Devils drew their game against West Ham at home in the sixth round only to be replayed a month later. His goal, again, proved to be a winner. He, then, went on to score against his former side, Everton, in the Semi Final which United won by two goals to one.
The Final against Crystal Palace was a nail-biting affair; Palace took the lead late into the game and looked worthy of the silverware. Fellaini, again, wasn’t willing to down his tools just yet and set up Juan Mata for the equaliser. The game was forced into an extra time and with the momentum, there was going to be only one winner that evening. Manchester United won their first trophy in FA Cup under the new management owing it all to the man from Belgium.
Van Gaal was sacked moments after the FA Cup win and Jose Mourinho took over. The change in management looked curtains for Fellaini but he kept working hard to prove it otherwise. And, just like Moyes and Van Gaal, Mourinh too, realised how important he is to this United squad.
He showed the supporters and the manager, that he’s just not a flat-track bully who you can punt the ball forward to but a big game player. At the time, Mourinho had put all his eggs in the Europa League basket and in hindsight, it was a master stroke. It really was. Fellaini played the games of his life against the Belgium outfit, Anderlecht in the quarter-final and the Spanish side, Celta Vigo, in the Semis.
United won 3-2 against Anderlecht and 2-1 against Celta Vigo, both on aggregate. He scored against the Spanish side in the return leg that eventually proved to be a winner. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Marouane Fellaini, now a thorough United man, has shown that just like everything else in life, sheer grit and determination can take you very far in Football too, however limited your abilities are.
And now, the tune of his detractors has changed from ‘United winning games despite of Marouane Fellaini’ to ‘United winning big games because of him’. The sweet moment of celebration between the manager and the player is a testament as to how valuable the Belgium is to this United team.
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