You would have been hard-pressed to find many United fans who, at the start of the season, would have seen Marouane Fellaini as one of the club’s most important players. At the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign, the Belgian was behind Paul Pogba, new signing Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera in the centre midfield pecking order. When Pogba was forced off with injury against Basel, many assumed that Herrera, United’s Player of the Season for 2016/17, would naturally slot into his place. However, Jose Mourinho had other ideas.
The United manager instead opted to play Fellaini and create an ultra-powerful midfield, with Marouane next to Matic. It wasn’t the first time Mourinho has put his faith in Fellaini since becoming United boss, and whilst most players would struggle to fill the boots of a player with the quality of Pogba, Fellaini took it in his stride.
Since becoming a regular starter for the Reds, Fellaini has put in arguably his best run of form in a United shirt since his £27million transfer in the summer of 2013. Ever since that transfer, Fellaini has often been one of the main scapegoats when United aren’t at their best. He was the only big signing of a quiet first (and only) summer window with David Moyes at the helm, so a lot was expected of him once he made the switch from Everton.
Unfortunately, Fellaini’s performances were nowhere near the quality he showed at the Toffees, and after a disappointing summer for Reds fans, where they were linked with top players such as Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara, the Belgian took a large chunk of the blame. As did the manager, of course.
When Louis van Gaal took over in 2014, Fellaini was expected to be one of the first names on the chopping board as the Dutchman, who had just led the Netherlands to third place at the World Cup, looked to overhaul an under-performing squad. The midfielder eventually stayed, although he was mainly restricted to making appearances from the bench.
Fellaini didn’t score his first goal for the club until October 20th 2014, where he came on as a second half sub against West Brom, and scored a wonderful goal just minutes later. Suddenly, Fellaini found himself thrust into the team more often, and with Angel Di Maria’s form dipping, he was given more and more opportunities to make an impact. He did just that towards the end of the 2014/15 season, as he put in several match winning performances and scored important goals, including against Tottenham and Manchester City, as United went on to finish 4th.
2015/16 wasn’t as fruitful of a season for the Belgian, however. He did score an important goal in the Champions League Play-Offs against Club Brugge, but with the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, as well as the good performances of Michael Carrick, Fellaini again found himself struggling for game time.
When Jose Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford, he was quick to stress how important Fellaini was for the team. The boss was always willing to give him chances to prove his critics wrong, and Fellaini repaid this faith with some important goals and performances as the Reds went on to win the EFL Cup and the Europa League.
This season has seen Fellaini come into his own as a United player. The Belgian is now being noticed for his good performances and ability to break up play rather than for his unusual hair. Marouane has continued to get better and better the more he’s played, and he’s really made it difficult for Mourinho to drop him. With the Belgian now out for a few weeks after picking up an injury on international duty, it will be interesting to see if he’s able to sustain this high performance level when he returns.
There’s a reason that several managers, namely Moyes, Mourinho and Belgian coach Roberto Martinez, have spoken so highly of Fellaini. You give him a job to do, and nine times out of ten he’ll do it for you. His consistency in his early seasons has been his downfall during his United career so far, but there’s a newfound hope among United fans that the big Belgian can show the form that made him a defender’s worst nightmare when he was on Merseyside. If recent form is anything to go by, then United fans have a lot to look forward to.