The news of David Moyes being appointed Manchester United boss undoubtedly broke the hearts of many an Everton fan, and even distant admirers of the Merseyside club, including myself. Rather than it being a simple case of a team losing their manager, the Scot’s decision to depart for Old Trafford had a sense of inevitability to it, as if the huge efforts on Moyes’ part over the years to get the Toffees constantly performing beyond their means and make them regular attendees of the Premier League‘s top six, would one day come back to bite the club, with the fatal flaw being that the United gaffer-to-be was always destined for a higher calling.
It could well be the end of the Toffees as we know it without Moyes at the helm. Furthermore, the team, now without a manager until Bill Kenwright completes the difficult task of deciding on an adequate replacement, are an open target for the coming transfer window, with many big clubs throughout Europe holding a vested interest in the future of Everton’s key players.
The most bitter of blows will be if the outgoing Goodison boss decides to take his two talismanic forces with him to Manchester; Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini. The former is coming to the end of the season of his life, recording five goals and five assists in the Premier League, in addition to being the division’s most creative player according to OPTA, but at the age of 28, the move to a big club will be now or never, whilst the latter’s career, the focus of this article, is set to hit full swing over the next few years.
The Belgian afro-bearer has undoubted ability – but is it the level of quality required at Old Trafford? Will Fellaini have the same effect on a big team that he currently has on the Toffees? And at a club like United, where all aspects of a new signing are considered; does his personality present a level of risk? Essentially, does Fellaini tick all the boxes for United?
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As previously mentioned, the boy certainly has skills. For a player whose traditional role is in defensive midfield, a return of 11 goals and five assists in 30 appearances is sensational, even if Fellaini has been deployed as a supporting striker for the majority of the season. The Belgium international’s height and power will ensure that the end product from set pieces will always be there, yet the majority of his successful efforts on goal have not been via his aerial ability, but rather the use of his surprisingly cultured feet – often not needing to be given the opportunity twice to shoot from the edge of the box when given space, and often not wasting his chance to find the bottom corner.
Furthermore, Fellaini’s chest control alone is a unique skill in itself that even if you took away the rest of his game, would still make him an effective force in the Premier League. During the first game of the season, rather fittingly against Manchester United, the Evertonian was out-jumping Nemanja Vidic, not to provide flick-ons with his head, but use his torso to bring the ball under his control, and went on to score the winning goal in a 1-0 contest. It’s not the first time Fellaini’s presence has put some of the Premier League’s biggest clubs to the sword, and his consistent performances in important games bodes well for his potential future at Old Trafford.
Furthermore, out of Chelsea, City and United, you’d argue the Red Devils’ need for Fellaini is greatest. Whilst I believe all clubs would consider the prospect of signing the Belgium international, there has been a soft underbelly in United’s midfield for years, and despite his admirers, the vacuum of a physical presence in the middle of the park has not been filled by the over-rated Tom Cleverley.
Sir Alex Ferguson was reportedly a huge fan of Lars Bender, a hard-working, technically gifted German international, but it could do David Moyes the world of good to deviate from his predecessor’s trail of thought and use the coming transfer window to stamp his own vision upon the roster at Old Trafford, by bringing in a player of good quality and utility that he is already well acquainted with.
Yet bringing Fellaini into the United midfield would require him to fulfil a far more subtle and less glamorous role than his current one at Everton. Whereas the 25 year old’s stock has risen following his first half of the season flurry of goals, undoubtedly a determining factor regarding the interest of the big clubs, he would be utilised much more defensively should he move to Old Trafford in the summer.
He’s certainly capable of doing the job and has all the attributes required in his locker -physicality, strength, height, reading of the game, ability to pass and get stuck in – but without the goals he provides from the forward role, is his apparent price tag, quoted by the papers of between £25million and £30million, justified? There may well be other targets out there, such as Victor Wanyama and Lars Bender, whose fees are far more cost-effective considering they can undertake the same tasks required in United’s midfield.
But it does provide Moyes with a sure-fire plan B. Wayne Rooney’s surprising transfer request, which may be u-turned following the appointment of the England man’s former boss from his Everton days, does leave a vacancy in attacking midfield. The role will most likely be given to Shinji Kagawa, giving the Japan international the opportunity to shine that he’s been waiting for, but Fellaini would be an effective stand-in when required to do so. Furthermore, the United gaffer will undoubtedly have some testing fixtures during his first campaign, and throwing the Belgian up front for the final minutes could well be the difference between a draw and a victory, between success and failure.
If Ferguson were still in charge however, you get the feeling that the potential transfer would be far less certain. The Belgian’s abilities are of a high enough standard, and furthermore, since his arrival on Merseyside in 2008, there has been a natural progression and improvement to his game, and due to his experience in the Premier League, you’d assume it could only extrapolate further upon moving to a bigger stage and playing regularly in Europe. But if there’s one thing Fergie could never stand for, it’s a questionable attitude, which is the biggest doubt cast over Fellaini’s head.
His three match suspension following a haunting display of ill-discipline against Stoke essentially cut the lanky midfielder’s season in two, being a much less prolific element during the latter half of the Toffees’ campaign. More alarmingly than his form however, is the danger Fellaini posed upon his future, by committing three acts that could have justified a straight red card had the referee seen him lash out with his fists at Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth in off the ball incidents.
Similarly, his showing against Wigan in the FA Cup was an embarrassment to the footballing profession. Finding themselves 3-0 down at half time after a very poor display, the Toffees needed their best players, mainly Fellaini, to really up their game if they were to get anything out of the match. Yet the Belgian was lacklustre, lazy, selfish and seemingly not bothered, often operating at jogging speed and unwilling to get himself involved in the match, to the horror of the Everton faithful. He may be able to get away with such childishness at Goodison Park, but should he pull the same sort of stunts in a United shirt, the criticism from the fans and the media would be quick, harsh and condemning, and would furthermore reflect badly upon the new manager.
I previously mentioned that an advantage to signing Fellaini would be that it would give Moyes the opportunity to step out of Fergie’s shadow and create his own path early in the next transfer window, but the Scot should still consider what his predecessor would do. The Belgium international is a fantastic talent and has already proved himself in the Premier League, but the former Everton boss must remember that he is paying for a defensive midfielder rather than an attacking midfielder, and furthermore, Fellaini’s temperament is a far cry from the standard currently set at Old Trafford.
On the surface, Fellaini appears to be the ideal fit, but scratch away and the cracks begin to develop. Considering it could well be Moyes’ first transfer as the official United gaffer, it’s success or failure will send out a message regarding whether the Scot has what it takes to manage at such an illustrious club, or if his talents will always be best suited a niche market of overachievement with limited resources.
The last thing Moyes needs is Fellaini to let him down, and judging by some of his controversial displays in an Everton jersey, showing his childishness and ill-discipline, that could well be the case. Furthermore, I’m sure United fans would not be too happy to go back to the days of losing a key midfielder to red cards and suspensions for all their big games, in echoes of the career of Roy Keane.
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