Unless you’ve spent the last three days with your head in a wasp nest, you’ll be well aware that the David Moyes ‘era’ at Manchester United has been brought to a rather abrupt, share-price-rising end. The Scot never settled during his 10 months at Old Trafford, but debates over whether his departure came too early or too late will be spared for another occasion.
Rather, this article considers what Moyes’ dismissal means for one of the two senior signings he made as Manchester United boss – the equally controversial and similarly troubled Marouane Fellaini.
Almost poetically, the Belgium international’s on-pitch problems parallel those that plagued his manager in the dugout this season.
No one can doubt Fellaini is a decent player, just as Moyes is a decent manager; they proved as much during their many years together at Goodison Park. But both struggled to embrace the magnitude of Manchester United. Fellaini’s cumbersome midfield displays were symbolic of Moyes’ backward and basic, unimaginative tactics, lacking any invention or intellect and trying to compensate for limits of quality with a wealth of aimless hustle and bustle.
And of course, having joined the Old Trafford ranks from Moyes’ former club, the narrative that Fellaini’s summer 2013 arrival has contributed to United’s ‘Evertonisation’ under the Scot, despite making just eleven Premier League starts this season, certainly isn’t a difficult one to follow.
In truth, the Belgian lankster should never have been made a Manchester United player. Hindsight is a wonderful privilege, but the warning signs were there long before Moyes prized the Belgian from his former club – perhaps explaining why Fellaini’s Carrington arrival came several weeks later and at £5million more than it could have.
It’s been long forgotten that the 25 year-old was purchased essentially as a replacement for Paul Scholes. The ginger maestro hung up his boots last summer, and after testing virtually every other avenue first – ranging from Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera to Galatasaray’s Wesley Sneijder – Moyes eventually settled for the one player guaranteed not to be put off by his presence at the Old Trafford helm.
Yet on paper, I couldn’t think of a more oxymoronic successor to the United legend. They’re polar opposites in every sense:
Paul Scholes – arguably the greatest technical talent of his generation, a regular recipient of glowing testimonies from the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi, a player whose intellect, vision and skill saw him defy the parameters of age and physique, all the while metamorphosing from a goal-scoring No.10 into a world-class deep-lying playmaker. The 39 year-old measures in at just 5 foot 6, never bothered learning how to tackle and couldn’t beat an opponent for pace even if their boots were filled with led, yet until his retirement remained one of the best central midfielders in world football.
Marouane Fellaini – a 6 foot 5 monolith of hair and elbows, arguably the Premier League’s most unimaginative forward since Emile Heskey. A player who has never had to rely on the powers of his brainwaves, rather the power of his upper-body strength, bulging thighs and the unique ability to control the ball perfectly with his chest.
The Belgian’s predominant role has always been to physically menace the opposition, yet his predecessor couldn’t physically menace a hamster. Scholes’ greatest gift was his orchestrating passing game, yet his successor’s ability in possession is limited to hit-n-hope long-balls, returning five-yard passes to their original creator and deftly cushioning goal-kicks with his enlarged afro.
As much as it’s about quality – and quite frankly, Scholes’ is simply irreplaceable – it’s about style. Moyes was bemoaned for his simplistically direct philosophy as Manchester United boss, and unfortunately for Fellaini, through no other faults than the 6 foot 5 skeleton he was born with and the limits of his imagination, he’s become a human effigy of the Scot’s tactical misgivings. Unfortunately for both, they’ve only ever looked out of their depth at Old Trafford, as if fate had somehow misplaced them.
Admittedly, bearing in mind the old adage of ‘allowing for a year to settle’, there may be hope for the Belgium international yet at Old Trafford- defensive disciplinarian Diego Simeone, mooted as a potential Moyes successor, would certainly have a few uses for him.
But the body language of Michael Carrick during any given partnering of the two tells its own story. The England international, one of a rare few in the Three Lions fold who appears to understand the importance of possession or can be fittingly described as ‘cultured’ in feet, has no use for a relatively immobile 6 foot 5 midfielder famed more for his ability to leap than his quality on the deck. Fellaini offers no creation of space, no eccentric avenue of pass, no astute yet telling movement, and resultantly, their midfield displays have largely consisted of Carrick passing the Belgium international the ball in a pocket of space, only for it to be given right back to him.
It’s a far cry from the services of Paul Scholes, and in a nutshell, the afro-bearing Evertonian has no future in United’s engine room. Could that bode a return to the supporting-striker role Fellaini adopted at Everton? Or even a push higher up the pitch as a more conventional out-and-out target man? Considering the immense quality at Manchester United’s disposal, both speculative theories seem incredibly unlikely.
It’s not often that Manchester United quit on a player after a single season. Ashley Young has survived three without ever coming close to paying back his £20million transfer fee. But as with David Moyes, Fellaini’s Old Trafford tenure is one they’d rather forget – like a one-night stand with an awkwardly close acquaintance, most at Carrington would like to pretend that Moyes and Fellaini never happened. I’m sure they’d like to pretend that Manchester United never happened to them either.