If Manchester United fans are elated by the signing of Marouane Fellaini they’ve done a marvellous job of hiding it. I’ve seen more enthusiasm for a sale at the Old Trafford Megastore than their new £27.5million acquisition. And I think that’s a little unfair.
OK the frizzy-haired Belgian isn’t Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Daniele de Rossi, or whisper it quietly, Mesut Ozil, but he isn’t exactly an Eric Djemba-Djemba either. This is a midfielder of proven Premier League quality that WILL improve the champions and there under-performing squad.
The trouble is, what I like most about Fellaini also happens to be his greatest weakness.
In one breath he’s an outstanding two-players-for-the-price-of-one talent that can defend and attack with his unique brand of physical attributes. The next you’re left scratching your head and wondering ‘what exactly is he’?
Hopefully his mentor from Goodison Park has a clear idea on the best way to utilise him, because if he doesn’t, and ends up shifting the ex-Everton star all over the pitch - filling gaps when his other star turns are unavailable – I fear Fellaini’s popularity will never scale the heights they deserve.
Personally, I see his best position in a floating role behind the centre forward. Given the freedom to roam around the opposition half, the Belgian keeps the ball very well (he’s damn hard to knock off of it) and has the power to inject additional pace to moves when he needs to. Playing in an advanced position also allows him to break into the box and score those headed goals that caught the eye so often in the early passages of the 2012/13 campaign.
However, if the obscenely talented Shinji Kagawa can’t get a game in that spot, and with Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck also fighting for the same shirt, I don’t hold out much hope that Fellaini will be used there. And I don’t suppose he’ll mind too much because the player himself, against my judgment, believes he’s a better defensive midfielder.
For me, the former Toffee is too rash in the tackle to claim expert status in a holding role. Giving away a lot of fouls in your own half is never a good thing. He is strong, he does read the game well, and he can keep possession nicely though – and that’s how I envisage Moyes utilising him at first.
Tom Cleverley is the man most likely to make way for him against Crystal Palace this weekend, and that will instantly made United stronger. The England youngster is a neat and tidy footballer but lacks the special qualities you need if you’re going to be a regular in the Manchester United midfield.
Fellaini might be rough around the edges, but he can be special. In fact, if he uses his attributes properly, he already is. Henning Berg said this week that Fellaini could make as big an impact as Eric Cantona. That’s nonsense. They’re not in the same league.
However, if David Moyes’ summer gamble has the confidence and drive to reinvent himself as a defensive and attacking midfielder all rolled into one – playing a powerful box to box game – then I do believe he can become a fixture in United’s strongest XI.
An all-action midfield hero is what United need. And if Fellaini can grab that moniker, even those apathetic Reds fans who grumbled at his arrival will quickly change their tune.
Fellaini is 3.20 to score on his United debut against Crystal Palace this Saturday - back him here.
Adrian Clarke's Professionally Speaking column appears here every Thursday