Fellaini the infelicitous

November 3, 2013 Tags: Reads 23 comments
featured image

It is an age-old problem of course: that a manager is unable, or sometimes unwilling, to extract the very best from one of his players. In fact it is hardly unusual when a new manager comes into an established squad full of players with whom he has never worked or, sometimes, hardly seen. This is the place that David Moyes has found himself in this season, not least when it comes to Shinji Kagawa, Wilfried Zaha, and Fabio da Silva, to name but three.

Yet, it really comes to something when a manager has coached a player for seven years and still doesn’t seem to know how, or where, to get the best of his charge. The biscuit is well and truly taken when the manager’s club spends more than £27 million acquiring said player.

It is, however, the inescapable conclusion from Marouanne Fellaini’s first two months at Manchester United, with the Belgian hardly auspicious in a midfield for whom he was supposedly the saviour. The right man for an area desperately lacking in star quality? Sadly, it seems not.

United’s weekend victory over Fulham in west London is a case in point, with Fellaini left on the bench despite Michael Carrick’s Achilles injury. The 25-year-old appeared as a second half substitute for Tom Cleverley; just in time for the already beaten Fulham to take the game to United in the closing 45. Fellaini was hardly in the mix.

Sure, the player was neat enough in the second period, completing 39 of 43 passes and making two successful tackles, two interceptions and winning three headers. It certainly helps when the Belgian retains possession better than his historical average of less than 80 per cent passes completed, although the majority of Fellaini’s passes were short – safe – and backwards or sidewards. The classic water-carrier.

Yet, Fellaini remains a puzzle. He is, after all, a player who rarely tackles, appears to boast few genuine defensive instincts and, for a giant man, is too easily brushed off the ball. The ease with which Southampton players brushed off the midfielder in recent matches was deeply troubling.

Nor is the Belgian creative either, while his lack of pace and, indeed, tendency to slow the game down has become a distinct frustration. In seven games for United Fellaini has scored none, made none, and averaged just one tackle per game, although rather unhelpfully on six occasions an opposition player has dribbled past the Belgian.

To give the player his due Fellaini has, as the statisticians like to call it, made one key pass. All season that is. Yet, the total pass count oer game is also substantially lower than when Fellaini wore blue, although far more accurate than in previous seasons at least.

The data doesn’t seem to stack up with the fearsome player who was supposed to become “United’s Yaya Toure,” marauding through opposition midfielders to give United both defensive bite and an attacking threat. Aside from the lack of quality demonstrated to date, Fellaini doesn’t appear to have the personality that dominates key matches.

Perhaps the disappointment is simply caused by a remnant of a collective consciousness; that fans’ memory of Fellaini’s contribution for Everton against United in recent seasons was so much more impactful than reality.

It was, after all, just two moments. One goal at Goodison Park, when bullying midfielder-turned-central defender Carrick, on the opening day of the 2012/13 season. Another strike at Old Trafford as Everton drew 4-4 in the previous campaign to damage United’s title hopes.

More pertinent still, neither of these contributions came with Fellaini deployed in the kind of defensive midfield role he has now been tasked with at Old Trafford. The ‘terror’, if it was really that, came with Fellaini doing what he is best at – getting on the end of direct attacking play and set-pieces, when deployed in an attacking role.

Yet, the player is certainly less talented as a withdrawn attacker than Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and the aforementioned Kagawa. Possibly even less so than Ashley Young, and that really is saying something.

The inference is clear: unless Moyes truly wants to transform United into a functional outfit, deploying percentage football, then Fellaini’s role is predominantly going to be defensive. And in that Moyes cannot extract the greatest possible value from his new acquisition.

It posses the question: why was Fellaini brought to the club at all and, more importantly perhaps, in what role did Moyes hope to use the Belgian giant? Neither answer is substantively clear, nor it seems was Moyes as the transfer window closed in early September.

Still, the player remains confident that his performances will eventually match the very lofty price tag, despite a global community focused in on United’s only major summer acquisition. The period of acclimatization has apparently been steep.

“I am United’s only signing this summer, so the media spotlight has been fully on me,” said Fellaini recently.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw when I arrived at the club. It was a change and a big leap for me. United are the top level. I am used to it now, but I struggled to take it all in at the beginning.

“There have never been any problems between Moyes and myself. It was his decision to leave me out against Stoke, and nothing more. I have taken it well and it is up to me to prove I can play. I can make a real contribution to the team winning trophies in the future.”

In that hope is not lost that Fellaini’s performances will improve, even if the raw ingredients fall short of the very highest quality. Moreover, the midfielder’s rush to protect youngster Januzaj, as the clock ticked towards the final whistle on Saturday, will certainly win round many fans.

A few well-intentioned reducers in upcoming matches, even if poorly timed, will help too. After all, if you can’t be great, be the evil bastard the club has been missing since Roy Keane departed in 2005.


Kemosabe - November 3, 2013 Reply

Side show Knob

jeremy f - November 3, 2013 Reply

“: Fellaini the infelicitous – http://t.co/1N5oIjGQiM #unitedrant http://t.co/bNLyPGNlkm” @Red_Devil_Marv Thoughts on this piece?

Sebastian Harney - November 3, 2013 Reply

Wasn’t he credited with an assist against Real Sociedad?

Tanmay - November 4, 2013 Reply

It was Shakhtar, not Sociedad

Ed - November 4, 2013 Reply

He’s not credited with an assist by any of the stats compilers – likely because the Shaktar player touches the ball before Welbeck.

Glyn Jelley - November 3, 2013 Reply

@johnmerro1 disagree with a large amount of that

kingjamesda1st - November 3, 2013 Reply

we should of got Strootman or lars bender, but it’s not to late.

jimmymac62 - November 3, 2013 Reply

Christ I thought I was verbose, talk about padding. So basically you’re saying Moyes was wrong to buy Fellaini and Fellaini should at least end a career or two in lieu of any technique or ability. Why didn’t you say so?

Johnny Schwarzlose - November 3, 2013 Reply

I would take 27 million to be an evil bastard.

Saim - November 4, 2013 Reply

He didn’t play a minute against Stoke (classic scapegoating) and Southampton are the best pressing team in the League(Not deflecting the blame off him). The timing of this article surprises me I must say, his best performance since making the switch came yesterday, yes he has his limits, he’s unable to control the tempo of the match with his passing and isn’t agile, but we all knew that. As far as pace goes I remember a moment yesterday (around 70th min), Evra gives the ball away high up and he out-sprints Phil Jones in getting back. Yes he can’t be our Toure, was never going to be. But he’s relatively good, he excels at attacking movement when receiving the ball (a trait which our team aches for), he can hold a midfielder off and can make a safe pass(this in a way should allow Carrick to go forward more) and as you mentioned could be a priceless asset high up the pitch. I am of the many who were raging all summer that we should not go for him, but now that he is here pointing out all what he’s bad at is not the way to go, he seems to love the club and deserves a chance.

Dayus D red - November 4, 2013 Reply

Felliani isn’t a bad player but he can’t play the defensive role. Even though he claimes that is his preferred role. Little wonder why he was never Moyes first or second choice in the summer. He will do better in a MF of three but not in 4 4 2. His too slow and has no defensive qaulity. His positional sense is also poor. It was a big mistake for Moyes to have jetison strooman and De Rossi that were pencled down for the role by SAF.

Julian - November 4, 2013 Reply

Has anyone explained why we didn’t go for Strootman who seemed ideal – a far more complete midfielder than Fellaini and quite a few others. He eventually moved to Roma for a comparatively paltry 16m and he’s only 23. Or was it a case of a complete obsession in trying to obtain the unobtainable – Cesc Fabregas. What a stuff up!

SKW - November 4, 2013 Reply

Whatever he was or was not at Everton he has been absolutely awful at UTD. A complete waste of space whenever he is on the pitch.

Gavin Allen - November 4, 2013 Reply

united Drew 4-4 the previous campaign.

Dayus D red - November 4, 2013 Reply

@julian. We didn’t go for him bcos Moyes wasn’t convinced about him as he wasn’t about Tiago and United did not want to impose any player on him.

Iwan Lehnert - November 4, 2013 Reply

The InFletchitious..?

I’ll let myself out.

MJC - November 4, 2013 Reply

totally agree with this, my worry is that DM is supposedly his preferred position?

Sam - November 4, 2013 Reply

Yep. Let’write him off after all of 2 months. Pretty sure Moyes knows alot more about him than any of us.

Ed - November 4, 2013 Reply


Let’s review shall we…

“… hope is not lost that Fellaini’s performances will improve, even if the raw ingredients fall short of the very highest quality.”

Moyes might “know a lot more about him” but he’s having trouble getting the best out of the player, clearly.

Anomander Rake - November 4, 2013 Reply

he turns into a beast in football manager so I guess there’s still hope.

Ashish - November 5, 2013 Reply

Hi Ed,

David Moyes is the sort of coach whos stuck in the ‘dyed in the wool’ mentality of believing that crosses in the box are the only source of scoring goals.

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the percentage of goals scored by crosses are very few in number ?

And yet from United’s play so far this season, it is clear that Moyes prefers crosses in the box, hence the obsession with signing Baines last summer.

Crosses are a mere euphemism for ‘long balls’ in the hope that someone will get on the end of a cross.

It’s a typical British style of football which curries flavour with mid-table/lower teams and Scottish teams.

Fellaini may not have been Moyes’ preferred signing, and he may not know how to use him effectively as yet….but he’s certainly the sort of player who would appeal to the style of football he wants to play.

So far David has had trouble getting the best out of Fellaini….and yet he has still played more minutes than someone more skillfull like Kagawa.

That tells you something of the Brit ‘stuck in’ mentality doesn’t it ?

Best Regards,

Tourettes @ the KOB - November 5, 2013 Reply

The guy never was, and will never be good enough for United.

The spectre of a “Juan Sebastian Veron ” has returned, as the saying goes, you can’t polish a turd !!
To mention him in the same breath as Yaya Toure is beyond belief, more like Ralph Milne or Ashley grimes !!

Off load him back to Everton in january and give Kagawa an extended run to show us his true pottential.

WallArtBox - May 1, 2014 Reply

Your means of explaining all in this article is actually nice, all
be capable of simply be aware of it, Thanks a lot.

Leave a Reply Cancel