Fulham at the weekend, but how far in the game can he really go?
Part of the increasingly talented Belgian contingent currently operating in the top flight, Fellaini has reportedly attracted interest from the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past, but would he merit a place in their teams on his current form or would he have to revert to a deeper-lying, more reserved role to force his way into the starting eleven?
After scoring eight goals in his debut season in the Premier League back in 2008-9, the 24-year-old then went on to score just six goals over the course of the next three seasons and 11 across all competitions. However, since it became clear that Tim Cahill’s time at the club was winding down, Fellaini has been pushed forward to support Nikica Jelavic to truly superb effect and ensured that David Moyes’ not only haven’t skipped a beat, they’ve become a more threatening and consistent attacking force.
With five goals and two assists in his first nine league games so far this season, including the winner during the team’s 1-0 season opener against Manchester United at home were he bullied a makeshift defence and the brace this weekend against Fulham, his sheer physical presence marks him out as a special talent.
Often when players are lauded as ‘having a good touch for a big man’, it’s about as back-handed a compliment as you can get, as if being tall simply isn’t conducive to having good technique, but Fellaini is able to combine his physique with no end of finesse and he’s capable of scoring all kinds of goals, as displayed by his double at Craven Cottage.
The first goal was a lesson in movement and he completely left Chris Baird for dead before latching on to Kevin Mirallas’ cut-back before lashing home, while his second displayed what he’s capable of doing with more direct service, brilliantly bringing down Phil Jagielka’s long punt forward onto his chest, out-muscling Aaron Hughes before finishing with aplomb into the bottom near post.
That Fellaini has been able to make the move from a central midfield holding man to a deadly support striker is well worthy of admiration and it’s hardly as if the two position are transferable, but ever since his arrival in England, the player has spoken of how he sees playing further forward as best suiting his skill set and only now are we truly seeing that on a consistent enough basis.
While Everton would obviously love to keep hold of them and should they achieve Champions League football this season, a feat not entirely out of the realms of possibility given the respective struggles of top four rivals Arsenal, Newcastle and Tottenham so far, then they may be able to hold on to him for at least another season. Nevertheless, you sense that there’s an expiry date on his time at Goodison Park and that he’s destined for more than the club can offer him.
He certainly wouldn’t look out of his depth playing for someone like Real Madrid, Chelsea or Manchester United on current form and while the £25m fee that it would probably take for him to part Merseyside may be seen as a bit on the steep side by some, international team-mate Axel Witsel recently transferred to Russian club Zenit St Petersburg for €40 million and Fellaini is arguably a more effective and versatile performer than him, already familiar with the top flight, albeit with limited European experience, so it’s about right if you ask me.
There’s an argument to be made that Fellaini may be slightly too cumbersome and slow to play an attacking role in Jose Mourinho’s side, while Manchester United and Chelsea are less prone to supplying the sort of direct service he thrives on, even if at Old Trafford he would have an ample supply of crosses to get his head onto.
Moreover, cast your eye around Europe at the moment and the lack of quality, recognised holding midfielders on show is scarce and there appears to be a real dearth of talent in that role at the moment. At Barcelona, Javier Mascherano has been converted into a sweeper to make up for the injury-prone nature of the ageing Carles Puyol.
Elsewhere, the likes of John Obi Mikel and Darren Fletcher both have their flaws, with really only Javi Martinez, Sergio Busquets and Sami Khedira to write home about. There’s nothing to stop Fellaini being held in such esteemed company in the future, but he may have to forgo his fondness for an attacking role to achieve it.
He is an hugely intelligent, adaptable and tactically aware player who uses the ball well in tight spaces, not to mention his aerial dominance and robustness in the tackle. At the true pinnacle of European football, though, there will always be quicker, trickier players capable of ‘breaking lines’ in the opponents final third and Fellaini may come to resemble a limited throwback to a forgotten generation of stylistic stagnation.
There’s no doubting his talent and the fact that he has something to offer the truly best teams in the world at the moment, but there are legitimate concerns over whether he is the right fit for the slick, fluid forward play that has become the fashionable in-vogue style on the continent. He has all the tools, but where he uses them will dictate how successful his career will eventually turn out to be.
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