Following this week’s news that Marouane Fellaini’s contract extension at Old Trafford has been activated by the club, the Red Thoughts team ask themselves, what do the coaches see in him that the fans don’t?
BETS: Look, he works hard, he brings a physicality to the team, he usually defends well, he pops up in attack and scores useful goals, he can tackle … sometimes I even ask myself, is it the way he looks that makes me not take him seriously?
But I think maybe it’s the difference between being a fan and being a manager. As a fan I want to be entertained, by a defence-splitting pass, or a magnificent piece of ball control, or a skill move, by a Beckham free kick, a Giggs dribble, a Scholes pile driver or some Roy Keane neck-vein-bursting heroics. As a manager though you want to win, and if somebody can do a very good functional job, and help get us the 3 points, it doesn’t matter if he’s boring or unsophisticated.
DAN: I said all last season that Fellaini is a useful player to have. He isn’t ever going to be a Pogba, but he does a job. Not every player on the pitch has to be a swashbuckling hero, you need the players who do the dirty bit. You can guarantee when his name is on the team sheet, a few players on the opposition team will think FFS, as he is big and awkward to play against. He needs the manager to put his arm around him and say this is what I want you to do. I’m happy he breaks up play and just gives it simple, no racking 40 yard balls, no trying to take men on. It’s not his game, his game is being the big awkward lump in the middle of the park bullying people off the ball. With his height he is useful offensively. I’m surprised he has been used as much as he has though, but if you’re playing well you should be in, especially in league games. A core squad is being established and it’s big, strong and athletic.
CARL: Having been our only purchase of note to come out of a turbulent and worrying period in United’s history three summers ago, which brought to a close an era that was the greatest in the club’s history when Sir Alex retired, Fellaini could be regarded as the last remnant of that summer that began a miserable and frustrating 3 years for the club. He was the last resort signing of a rather failed and embarrassing first transfer window for new manager David Moyes in the post Ferguson era so, as far as appealing to the fans goes, Fellaini was not off to a good start.
In the 12 months that followed, Fellaini would be a regular fixture in United’s midfield in a doom-laden first – and only – season under David Moyes’ management which would see the club finishing in their lowest ever position in the Premier League era. Enter Louis van Gaal and his “philosophy”. A man that deployed possession at all cost, sleep-inducing football that saw Fellaini being utilized as a focal point when things were desperate in yet another rather forgettable and unsuccessful spell for the club. It’s unfortunate for Fellaini that he became representative of everything that was wrong in the post Ferguson era and was symbolic of the failings of his two previous United managers. Is that fair that he’s often been made a scapegoat for fans, myself included? Probably not. Not least because in the mist of the constant scathing criticism that he has been subjected to, it can’t be argued that the man doesn’t give his all. So why does the tide appear to be turning in regards to fan perception of Marouane Fellaini? Well of course it helps that a reputable manager like Jose Mourinho has come in, brought with him an air of positivity that has gripped the club and its fanbase again, is showing every sign of getting United back on track and has then gone on to publicly endorse Fellaini and utilize him in a role that suits best his qualities and attributes.
LVG’s brand of football frustratingly suppressed every players’ ambition and creativity but that often allowed Fellaini more freedom. That only aided in further exposing the ugly nature of his play, so it’s no wonder it was hard to view him in a good light, particularly when it became evident that he can’t finish for shit and so missed many opportunities in front of goal. In most of the games he’s played under Mourinho, Fellaini has looked the most positively impactful than he’s ever been in a United shirt and if Jose is to stick with him then long may it continue. We may well end up considering Fellaini a pivotal and an unexpected hero in Jose’s set-up as time goes by, now who would’ve imagined that? A frightening thought.
COREY: This is just my opinion, but still no. Mourinho says he likes his specialists, and in that regard Fellaini has been useful. He tends to follow strict marching orders.
The teams he’s tended to play against have approached the game in a similar fashion. They have sat deep and tried to hit us on the counter. We have enjoyed most of the possession in those games. But what happens when we play a team that presses high up the field, or passes the ball around? I am looking at Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal, Man City, etc.
I think when Fellaini is asked to actually man mark players, more specifically players of considerable skill, i.e the Hazards and Ozils of the league, that’s when you see the flying elbows and the constant fouls.
The City game proved my point. You play him when you play teams that are just going to play route one football. When you tell Fellaini to just sit in front of Blind and win headers and not do anything else, that’s when he is useful. Against a team like Man City, who are going to play the ball on the ground, Fellaini is useless. I don’t want to see Fellaini anywhere near the lineup when we play teams like Arsenal and Man City.
RICK: My friend we finally agree on something! Fellaini has and will always be a back up and should never play against the big teams.
DAN: With Fellaini, what you see is what you get. He is big and awkward and I think he gets unfairly punished at times due to his size. It’s not a deliberate elbow every time he gets pulled up for one. He is never going to be a Scholes or a Roy Keane player but what he does well is breaks play up and is an obvious areal threat. He is a more than useful squad player offensively and defensively, hence why he still at the club under his 3rd manager.
RICK: What happened against City and that penalty against Everton proves why he can’t play for United. He’s too slow, he can’t read the game, he makes silly fouls, his vision is non-existent. Anyone can make a hundred 5-yard passes and go nowhere (unless you’re Rooney). He gets bypassed too easily. Fellaini is not good enough if we want to challenge for top four, much less the title.
HEMOR: I think he works hard and it’s hard for a manager to not like a player who works hard. He also has the advantage of being tall, so when we play against tall teams or when teams are playing lots of crosses into the box bringing in one of your tallest players is a reasonable thing to do (which is why I strongly defend Mourinho’s decision to bring in Fellaini against Everton, even though it didn’t work out as planned). Also when you need one more goal towards the end of the game, bringing on someone like Fellaini, who’s tall, is reasonable, even though he doesn’t score as many headers as you would normally expect.
His cons outweighs his pros though.
FAB: I am going to have accept that he did well against Hull and an unusual combination of Darmian and Fellaini made that second goal possible. Still haven’t changed my mind on him though.
BETS: I don’t like the booing and the hatred that the fans mete out to these players. These guys are human beings and deserve our support no matter what. But as a fan I just don’t like to see a player hugging the manager like that. Not in a home game against Hull anyway – maybe in a Champions League final or something, but honestly, WTF? Teacher’s pet? It must be hard as a manager, even the world’s best, to separate your personal feelings for a player from a clinical evaluation of their abilities and performance. For me, he’s been a blind spot for 3 consecutive managers, who have all felt the need to defend him to the fans, sometimes embarrassingly (remember Moyes telling us “Technically he’s very good. He has fantastic chest control, for instance”? Or Van Gaal, when he elbowed Robert Huth – “I think its a normal reaction. Grabbed with the hair, only with sex, masochism” haha). As a coach you must accept you may be blinded by likeability and should listen to the fans! We are judging them on their playing ability alone, not whether they are a nice guy or not. That counts for nothing on the pitch.
I’m with Roy Keane, who said an injured Schweinsteiger is better than a fit Fellaini. I’m really disappointed we’re extending his contract.
RICK: The squad is a family, like Fergie always used to say. You can’t just be cold all the time. You have to be there for them, to motivate them and help them with psychological issues when needed. Well that’s what Fergie did and it’s why he was the best.
Fellaini isn’t United standard but if he does a job for us I’ll give him credit. But in no way is he first team quality. He’s rotation at best.