Marouane Fellaini: a symptom not the cause

January 13, 2016 Tags: Reads 11 comments
featured image

Misery, so the saying goes, loves company. If that’s the case Manchester United fans can take solace that theirs isn’t the only sporting entity being mismanaged by the Glazer family. Stateside, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL franchise is going through a period of turmoil too, after firing the head coach in rather haphazard circumstances.

If anything Lovie Smith’s dismissal demonstrates that no matter the type of football, American or the beautiful game, the Glazers have a gift for bungling the sporting side of things. It’s worth a sarcastic round of applause much like the one that greeted Memphis Depay’s effort against Sheffield United in the FA Cup last weekend.

If any player encapsulates the misadventures of the Glazers’ ownership, piloted by Ed Woodward, it is Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian’s performances in red have, more often than not, been roundly and justifiably criticised. The midfielder’s latest escapade against Newcastle United on Tuesday demonstrated all of his glaring flaws. Missing gilt-edged opportunities is a habit that has been alarmingly regular throughout this season, while Fellaini lacks both the technical skills – chest control excepted – and ability to grasp the tactical requirements of what’s demanded of him, either as a midfielder or defensive midfielder.

Fellaini is not just a player short of the quality required at Old Trafford, but the footballing embodiment of the missteps taken by the club ever since Sir Alex Ferguson left the roost.

The Belgian cannot be faulted for the transfer farrago to Old Trafford. He’s not to blame for Woodward and David Moyes kicking their heels, allowing a £23.5 million buy-out clause to lapse, leaving the club overpay by £4 million. It certainly wasn’t Fellaini’s fault that United waited until the last-minute to make a concerted effort to sign him and even then that a late bid nearly came unstuck. Most of all Fellaini had the opportunity to play for United; he cannot be condemned for jumping at the chance to play for the then champions of England.


Whether Fellaini should have been presented with that prospect is a different matter entirely. But even here the big Belgian is due some sympathy. Fellaini is the symptom of a larger malaise that has engulfed the boardroom at Old Trafford. That he’s the default scapegoat owes as much to the dithering and mismanagement at United as it does to the player’s lack of quality.

Unfortunately for the Belgian he is a poster child for the club’s general approach – a player purchased without thought for a specific role. Fellaini was eventually made available and the new regime at United needed to prove a point. As a result he an the odd piece of furniture. The lampshade when United really needed a table. Now he’s a contingency, Van Gaal’s plan B – the option Moyes was too reluctant to adopt for fear of ridicule.

Fellaini will forever be the first major transfer made in the post-Ferguson era. It’s an inauspicious statement if there ever was one. Maybe it was fitting that the Belgian came on for Anderson when making his United bow against Crystal Palace. One underwhelming signing for another. It was a happier time though as the new man received a big cheer from the Old Trafford faithful and nearly capped off his first appearance with a goal.

Fast forward to January 2016 and reports are that he’s been made available for the princely sum of £24 million. Woodward and United will be lucky to receive anything close to that amount should they find a willing buyer for the fuzzy haired international.

Plan B

In fits and starts Fellaini has been useful for Van Gaal. It is bizarre that Fellaini is trusted by the Dutch coach given the former’s greatest strength is causing general chaos in the opponent’s third. His style of play should be at odds with Van Gaal’s preference for complete domination of matches.

Fellaini’s most productive streak came during the six-match winning streak that saw United beat Sunderland, Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City last season.

In that run he scored vital goals against the north London club and in the derby, whilst raising his game against the big teams. Fellaini was impressive against Spurs, Liverpool and against City where he won a personal battle with Yaya Touré.

Such was Fellaini’s form that José Mourinho devised a tactical plan to stop the midfielder from wreaking havoc against Chelsea when United visited Stamford Bridge. It was a grand compliment. And with Van Gaal’s side was struggling to secure fourth last season it was Fellaini who netted the crucial goal against Palace at Selhurst Park that effectively sealed the Champions League spot for the Dutchman’s side.

That run of form has been the exception and not the rule as United’s number 27 has regressed to the mean.

This season against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League Fellaini was greeted with chorus of boos when he was brought on for Anthony Martial. The jeers weren’t, in fairness, completely aimed at the midfielder, but an outpouring of frustration in the manager taking a seemingly retrograde step with United searching for victory. As it turned out the team did churn out a 1-0 win, but the reception was noteworthy nonetheless.


Extrapolating on the theme, it is easy to consider the jeers symbolically representing an expression of exasperation at the rudderless direction the club is heading under Van Gaal and a dysfunctional board.

Now, whenever Fellaini’s name is announced, an air of resignation hits. The moment he is brought on as a substitute the entrance is met with unenthusiastic groans. When Fellaini is withdrawn the crowd breathes a sigh of relief.

After all, Fellaini is not a United standard player – his two and a half years at the club is a testament to that observation. It’s not for lack of effort; he’s just not a fit – a squad member with a nasty streak, an option who retains his place because he implicitly follows his manager’s instructions.

Yet, no matter how much ire Fellaini attracts, he is little more than a symptom of United’s current ills. Certainly not its cause. It’s a fact that United’s supporters should not lose sight of as the season heads towards its close.


Pete Naphasorn Webb - January 13, 2016 Reply

Playing the tree aint ok by me,cant stand felliani in a utd shirt

bk - January 14, 2016 Reply

i am very disaointed with the team i been follow man u sense 1956.the coach has to goidont thing cant manage the team he always jagle the playersand his system stings Fellaini his has to gothe guy it is a looser and inside the field his looks like chicken with out head

Dave Hurley - January 13, 2016 Reply

Dog shit … AC Milan offer 11 mill…get shot

Subterranean Steve - January 13, 2016 Reply

If there is one thing slower than Fellaini’s speed of movement, it’s his speed of thought.

Opti - January 14, 2016 Reply

I agree that Felly is just not good enough. He was good at everton, but not a superstar. Sell him for 10m.

Watching MotD, Mane-Memphis-Martial looks pretty sexy.

Sell Rooney back to Everton and get Lukaku back.

De Gea

Title, please!

Andy - January 14, 2016 Reply

Whilst I agree that Fellaini is not of United quality no one can argue that the best football United have played over the past 2 and a half seasons was the six matches last spring when the team were set up correctly.

Played as a more advanced midfield player with willing runners working off him Fellaini can be useful, playing in a defensive midfield two he is less than useless. So why does a self and media proclaimed football genius consistently play him out of position?

I have said before and I will say again our team needs to be set up as a 4-3-3, it’s the system that made Van Gaals name, it is the system that produced Uniteds best performances for two years and it would enable us to capitalise more on all the possession we enjoy.

For me the side should look like this

De Gea

Valencia/Darmian – Smalling – Jones/Rojo/New CB – Shaw/Blind/Rojo

Schweinsteiger/Schneiderlin (Carrick excluded due to age, he’s soon to retire)
Herrera/Scheinderlin Fellaini/Scheniderlin

Young/Mata/Januzai Memphis/Young/Januzai

karlo - January 18, 2016 Reply

How about this for a 4-3-3

De Gea

Darmian Smalling (New CB) Shaw


Herrera Schneiderlin

Martial Memphis


Denton Davey - January 14, 2016 Reply

Today, I watched some of the wonderful UTD 8 – Arse 2 match on SportsNetWorld. It was astonishing to see – and to realize I’d forgotten – what joy and pleasure TheLads could provide.

The team on the pitch had “Legends” such as Jonny Evans and MrJones in the middle of defence, “Mike” at right back and the wonderful Patrice Evra on the other side, Anderson and Cleverley in midfield (!), Chicharito, Nani and a guy formerly known as Ashley Young in attack as well as a youthful, fast and dynamic version of TheWayneBoy.

A young DDG was in goal and the bench contained ThreeLungPark, Dimmy, Ryan Giggs, AV25, and Rio; Vidic seems to have been out injured -apparently DannyTheLad was injured in the first half – and, if memory serves, the GingerNinja had retired for the first time; DarrenFletcherinho was probably in the toilet, coping with his colitis.

Unlike the current iteration, these guys played fast, shape-shifting fun-ball as opposed to the dire dross dictate by LvG’s philosophy. TheArse were cut open every-which-way as TheLads ran-off-the-ball and moved into open space.

It was like a dream but, alas, I woke up.

Winston - January 15, 2016 Reply

Denton, thanks for the memories. The dynamic duo (Cleverly and Anderson) only ceased operation because Davies crocked Cleverly at Bolton and he was never the same again, but it was great while it lasted. After that, Carrick returned from injury and we know speed was not his thing. But speaking of Carrick and memories, the 7 – 1 against Roma the previous year also brings back a tingle. We are familiar with what unfolded since, with Glazer parsimony and lack of a clear development strategy setting the stage for the quick fix and poor buys in more recent times. So looks like its going to be re-runs for a while to relieve what threatens to be a long drawn out nightmare.

Jack Moore - January 15, 2016 Reply

Interesting piece on Fellaini. I know he has regressed under LVG’s tutelage but so have others, Di Maria probably the highest profile victim and probably the most spectacular fall. I agree that in terms of skill he probably isn’t up to United standards, but when he was signed I actually thought at last we had brought in a player who would take no nonsense. Ever since we lost the services of the great Roy Keane (after Ferguson stabbed him in the back) teams have been taking liberties with us. Quite frankly when we lost Keane we lost a large part of our fear factor. I’m not saying Roy was dirty, he wasn’t, but he was hard and he protected the team especially the younger players. Fellaini can be a bit nasty to say the least but to his credit its usually in retaliation to people who try to kick us off the park. Alas, watching him lately I saw one incident recently where normally he would have went through the player, but there was no reaction. Was this another fiery spirit that has been quelled by the mind numbing, morale sapping, boring tactics employed by LVG? I think it was.

Opti - January 16, 2016 Reply

And these legends threw away an 8 point lead with 6 games to go, right…. AGUEERRROOOOOOOOOO made me so so so furious that day.

Add your comment