When the history books are written about the post-Sir Alex Ferguson demise of Manchester United, it is likely that David Moyes, Ed Woodward and Marouane Fellaini will adorn the cover.
The Belgian, the only notable signing of David Moyes’ first summer in charge in Manchester, has long been a figure of derision for Manchester United fans.
The sight of Fellaini’s large afro hairstyle emerging from the substitutes bench has brought groans and boos, aimed both at the Belgian and what he often signifies; the abandonment of prior tactics and the swift adoption of a more rudimentary football style based on aerial bombardment, something deemed greatly against the grain of Manchester United’s rich footballing history.
Why don’t Manchester United fans appreciate Marouane Fellaini?
It wasn’t always like this for Fellaini. Prior to arriving at Manchester United in 2013, he was highly regarded at Everton.
In a game against United at Goodison Park in August 2012, Fellaini dominated and scored the only goal. His skill set, characterised by strong aerial ability and excellent chest control, was lauded.
Fellaini’s dominance at set pieces, both offensive and defensive, was apparent and these skills were front and centre in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last trip to Goodison.
It did not help Marouane Fellaini that he joined Manchester United following failed attempts to sign Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas. Paul Scholes had just retired, Michael Carrick was on the wane and United desperately needed central midfielders.
Fellaini is wonderfully versatile, but he is not a metronomic playmaker in the mould that United required.
Had Fellaini arrived a year earlier, Ferguson would have used Fellaini efficiently, maximising the skillset of the big Belgian, but Fellaini was soon thrust into a role for which he was wholly unsuited.
In Moyes, and later Van Gaal and Mourinho, Fellaini has never had a manager at Manchester United who has adeptly utilised his considerable skillset.
Fellaini has played a number of roles at United. He been an outright target man in the dying embers of games, something which was effective against Arsenal last season and even Derby this week.
On other occasions, Fellaini has been a deep lying midfielder, such as against Burnley this season; while in the first few games of Jose Mourinho’s reign, the Portuguese utilised Fellaini as a rudimentary central midfielder alongside Paul Pogba against Bournemouth and Southampton.
Ken Early of the Second Captains podcast this week highlighted the lack of variety in United’s attacking approach under Mourinho.
He highlighted how United didn’t alter their attack against Wolves when an aerial bombardment was unsuccessful.
That, Early argued, is the difference between United and say City or Liverpool who have a multitude of approaches to break down teams.
In any given matchday, Fellaini can be that variety and with slightly more nuance, his inclusion need not necessitate endless, route one style aerials balls into the box.
Perhaps the most effective and consistent time of Fellaini’s Manchester United career was being utilised as a target man for Louis Van Gaal, playing off the main striker.
This was also the most attractive – and successful – era of Van Gaal’s reign at United and Fellaini was a difference maker in games against Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City in March and April 2015.
Fellaini was an important part of Belgium’s World Cup side this summer, operating in a deep lying midfield role.
What the Belgians appreciate more than Manchester United fans is that not every talent needs to be aesthetic.
While Hazard and De Bruyne are brilliant, attractive footballers, the variety created by a wildcard such as Fellaini offers a different type of weapon in the tactical approach.
Having spent five years at Old Trafford, it is possible that Manchester United fans might never accept Marouane Fellaini as one of their own. It is a shame.
Fellaini is a talented player, but unfortunately for the Belgian, he has come to be the physical embodiment of Manchester United’s stark decline.
Perhaps it is merely born out of resentment, but the Manchester United fans do not appreciate the special threat that Fellaini brings to the team.
Then again, maybe it is not the fans’ fault. Had they seen Fellaini used as a more potent weapon, in a better attacking strategy, Fellaini might be a cult hero in Manchester.
It’s worth reiterating that it is no exaggeration to suggest that Fellaini would have succeeded in a Sir Alex Ferguson team.
Fellaini’s inclusion should not necessitate one way to play football. Fellaini the footballer is versatile, and part of his talent is that he happens to be an effective footballer in a non-conventional manner.
Every squad needs a Fellaini. The likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus have proven in the past that they would not be opposed to signing a player with his skillset.
These are fine European sides of a similar ilk to United.
Marouane Fellaini does not represent the downfall of Manchester United, nor does he illustrate the falling standards of the Red Devils.
He has been unlucky to be part of a Manchester United side in turmoil, with managers who have never had the confidence or ability to utilise him properly.
Every Manchester United team in history would have benefitted from a Fellaini. Like many players before him, he just needs to be utilised effectively to shine on the biggest stage.