Are We Witnessing The Emancipation of Marouane Fellaini?


In the following scene, I like to imagine Marouane Fellaini as the philosophical type. 

Having just played a full part in Manchester United's 1-1 draw against Chelsea, and still glowing from the thronker he hit against West Brom (social assist to @WBAFCofficial), Fellaini returns home to the £2 million house he shares with a couple of close friends. 

"Amazing stuff today Fella" one of them says. "You were brilliant out there, best player on the pitch. Made up for you big man."

Fellaini smiles. "It's true, I am a genius again," he says.

"Yesterday I was David Moyes' lampshade, but today I am the giant lightbulb that guides the way for Louis van Gaal's Manchester United."

"And what about tomorrow?" says the friend.

"Tomorrow I will be going on loan to QPR."

We spent months gleefully chopping down the biggest tree in the football forest, but a couple of shoots of life and we're talking about planting Fellaini firmly in United's midfield again. He was awful, and now suddenly he's awfully good again.

How is that possible? And doesn't it make you wonder if Fellaini has just been playing us all along, just for his story arc to entice us in and make us will his redemption?

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There was a video that went viral last season of Fellaini in Champions League action against Bayern Munich. Driving out of defence with the ball, Fellaini picked a diagonal line and stuck to it. And stuck to it. And then he ran the ball straight out for a throw.

Much like the weight of clips that show Fernando Torres, Gervinho and Nicklas Bendtner missing sitters, those few seconds of a directionless, dying-on-his-feet Fellaini came to define him. They will live on whatever comes next, but for a while last season that run was his social media calling card.

Some players rebound from such humiliation (see Gervinho). Others repeat the same mistake (see Torres). The internet couldn't care less what happens, as long as we're laughing. For every Erik Lamela rabona, there's a David Dunn attempt that ends with him falling over his legs.

Everything in football is death or glory these days. Gifted players are gods or gone missing, and nothing between. It's the price of real talent and it's paid by likes of Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney and Eden Hazard every week in the Premier League.

Fall and rise. Repeat. Each cycle as predictable as the last, yet still we indulge it.

We can all agree Fellaini's season horribilis under Moyes was particularly bad however. Club legend Bryan Robson has reasoned he struggled to adjust to the "expectations" of United, both in terms of the stature of the club and the attacking football the fans pay to see.

Firstly, it's Manchester United. Secondly, it's called "the Theatre of Dreams". Who did he think he was signing for?

Whatever happened to Fellaini last season was in part due to injuries, in part due to the general malaise under Moyes, and in part down to the adjustment of changing clubs. And while it fits the agenda to say he was dreadful all season, Fellaini only made 16 Premier League appearances, with four as a sub.

But his timing was awful. A Moyes signing, who'd played for Moyes before, playing badly in a really bad Moyes team. Hardy the way to win over a new set of Moyes-hating fans, was it? 

There was no grace period. Fellaini was also without the kind of support in midfield that he benefitted from against Chelsea. Under Moyes, there was no Daley Blind to sweep up behind him, and the attacking thrust to the flanks was not what it is with Angel Di Maria on the pitch.

In the Van Gaal set-up, Fellaini is predominantly a spoiler who does damage when he's left unguarded. The fact he stifled Cesc Fabregas, arguably the Premier League's most effective midfield creator, surely means he'll start at Manchester City at the weekend and be given an identical role.

Van Gaal knows his midfield shield is vital, especially with the weaknesses of an injury-ravaged defence to protect. And after Fellaini's performance against Chelsea, he's potentially come upon a solution that the club has already paid for - a player who can add some defensive armour to a team with countless weapons in attack.

"I'm a coach who is always thinking about creative players but in England you also need physical bodies in your team and Fellaini is one of these," Van Gaal said on Sunday.

Fellaini has thanked Van Gaal publicly for keeping faith in him. The question now is whether his newfound confidence can help him achieve what last season seemed impossible - to become a United regular, thriving in a successful side, and with the fans behind him all the way.

Just as the Vine of that hopeless dribble defined him last season, so could a winner against Manchester City do the same for this. 

"Fellaini has taken his tracksuit off. Fortunately he has a Man Utd strip underneath."

One day that could be a plaque at Old Trafford.

Bet on Sunday's Manchester derby now