Along with David Moyes, Fellaini became the ultimate scapegoat for Manchester United’s failure last season. He became a symbol for the failed summer transfer window, in which United publically chased every big name available, from Thiago Alcântara to Mesut Ozil, yet ultimately signed only the former Everton man. Arriving amidst a general feeling of disappointment from the fans was always going to be difficult, and this was compounded by the manner in which the club pursued the big Belgian.
It was well known and reported that Fellaini had in his contract a release clause, albeit one which expired towards the end of the summer. If United had signed Fellaini at the lower fee early in the window as one of many signings during the rebuilding process, he would likely have been lauded as good business. Instead, Woodward and Moyes haggled and negotiated with Everton, publically courting Everton’s players, whilst refusing to meet Fellaini’s release clause as they attempted to form a package deal with Leighton Baines.
As the window ticked down, other targets were ruled out, and it became apparent Everton would not sell Baines, the emphasis fell on Fellaini to force through the move, having to sacrifice large bonuses, and take a pay cut. These are hardly circumstances to inspire confidence or make a player feel wanted, add to this that injury quickly followed and that his eventual performances for a struggling side with hyper analysed and heavily criticised, it is no surprise that Fellaini had a disappointing first season.
During the summer with Belgium at the World Cup, Fellaini showed in flashes his true ability, and the form that earned him the move from Everton in the first place. However, despite this Fellaini still found himself linked with a move away, Napoli seeming the most likely destination, and did not feature in Louis van Gaal’s early season plans. That all changed last week against West Brom. With Manchester United training, the big Belgian came on to provide everything that has been so lacking for the Red Devils for far too long. Aggressive, abrasive, physical, Fellaini provided the presence United needed up front, linking well with fellow substitute Falcao, and even bagging the equaliser in trademark fashion.
That cameo earned Fellaini a start against Chelsea, in what was arguably the club’s best performance so far this season. For once United looked fairly solid at the back, Fellaini providing bite in midfield and much needed height during set pieces. It is a sign of the times that United fans are celebrating a point against Chelsea as they would a win, but given the depths of last season’s disappointment, matching the league leaders and champions elect must be taken as a huge positive, especially given the number of injured players absent. Edging both possession and chances, United can take real hope from their improved performance that returning to the Champions League this season is achievable.
A resurgent Marouane Fellaini could be key to those hopes, his box to box presence something no other United player can offer at present. During his time with Everton, Fellaini established himself as one of the best midfielders in the league, able to unsettle the strongest of backlines through sheer physicality; one bad season does not a bad player make, and it is up to Fellaini now to show that last year was nothing more than a blip for him, and for Manchester United.