EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: “Fellaini won’t improve at Manchester United”

by Sam Peoples

Hi John. Could you introduce yourself to the readers?

Hi, I’m a Brit but I’ve spent most of my working life in Brussels and surrounding districts. I started writing about Belgian football back in 1999 when Royal Antwerp linked up with Manchester United. I wrote extensively about that partnership for a few years for the Manchester Evening News; interviewing most of the United youngsters (especially in the first few years) and I was the only British journalist present when Ronnie Wallwork almost strangled the referee while playing in a meaningless playoff match.

Since then I’ve worked for the BBC, the now-defunct One Football and written for World Soccer, When Saturday Comes, FourFourTwo and many UK newspapers in the days when they used freelances.

In October 2010, I started a blog called Belgo Foot and started an associated Twitter account (@Belgofoot). I write about Belgian football and Belgian footballers and it’s a good time to be doing that.

Marouane Fellaini spent two years with Standard Liege in Belgium before moving to Everton in 2008. How did he fare in the beginning of his career?

“He was often red-carded but he was also one of the prime movers (tackling, breaking up attacks, 90 minute man) in Standard winning the championship.”

Fellaini played for Anderlecht juniors between the ages of seven and ten and scored lots of goals. He moved to Mons for family reasons (his dad’s job) and when about 15 he went to Charleroi – one of the coaches there told his dad that Fellaini could be a second Patrick Vieira.

It didn’t work out though and his dad moved him to Standard Liege. He blossomed under the then coach Michel Preud’homme and once in the first team he never left it. Fellaini played as a defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation alongside Axel Witsel and Steven Defour. He was the junior of the three midfielders and was very raw. He was often red-carded but he was also one of the prime movers (tackling, breaking up attacks, 90 minute man) in Standard winning the championship. Here’s what I said about him back in 2008 when he joined Everton.

What is the opinion of Fellaini within the Belgian media and among fans? Is he an essential player for your new look Belgium side?

I would say that if you assume Belgium play 4-5-1 then Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are ahead of Fellaini in midfield. The only certain starters in the team are Kompany, Courtois and Witsel.

That leaves just two places from a group that includes Fellaini, Moussa Dembele, Nacer Chadli, Kevin Mirallas, Dries Mertens and Steven Defour.

The three favourites for the last two positions are Fellaini, Chadli and Dembele. It looks like Marc Wilmots favours Chadli and Dembele ahead of Fellaini and I tend to agree. Those two players are more creative although Fellaini does offer that real threat from set-pieces.

If you ask the Belgian pundits and fans, I think quite a few pundits would tend to put Fellaini in the starting 11 while the fans would be 50:50.

“Fellaini can also play box-to-box but I don’t see him as being as technically capable as any of the other eight Belgian midfielders in the squad.”

Many United fans look at Fellaini as simply a bullish midfielder. Do you think that is his game or is there a more technical side to him?

I see him as an excellent holding midfield player in front of the back four but not as adept there as Witsel, who is also much more disciplined. Fellaini can also play box-to-box but I don’t see him as being as technically capable as any of the other eight Belgian midfielders in the squad.

If he were to join United, what sort of midfielder do you see him being? Will he be a holding defensive midfielder or is he best suited to playing slightly further up the pitch?

See answer to 4.

Fellaini has a pretty poor discipline record having conceded the most fouls in the Premier League for the past 3 years. Will he able to improve his discipline at United?

He also had a poor disciplinary record in the Belgian league in his two years there. It’s the way he plays. Unlikely to change.

“I don’t think he has much room for improvement (unlike say De Bruyne, Hazard, Chadli) and what you see is what you will get.”

Do you think Fellaini has reached his peak at Everton or does he have more to offer if he were to join Manchester United?

I don’t think he has much room for improvement (unlike say De Bruyne, Hazard, Chadli) and what you see is what you will get.

After a solid start at Everton, he really shot to prominence in the UK with his games in the early part of last season when he played just behind the striker (especially vs. Manchester United) but he has gone on record saying he does not like that position.

Wilmots has said he sees Fellaini as a defensive midfield player behind Witsel in the pecking order. However, he did play well last night in the friendly against France in a box-to-box role but Dembele was out injured and De Bruyne was on the flanks.

Fellaini’s record for Belgium – except for last night – has not been particularly good in the last 12-18 months and he’s missed quite a few qualifying games. He was once reported as saying he was too tired to play for Belgium and was subsequently benched.

I get the impression Fellaini thought he would be able to choose when he went – preferring Chelsea and Manchester United – but for some reason no move has materialised yet.

Stay up to dath with Belgium football on the excellent Belgo Foot and be sure to follow John on Twitter (@Belgofoot)

Image: Everton FC

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