Marouane Fellaini has played 100 games for Manchester United.
There are numerous doom laden stats that shine a light on just how badly United have handled the post-Ferguson years but perhaps none as stark as the fact that he of the razor elbows and curiously poor heading ability has played a ton of games.
In my mind, he had one fruitful three game spell – way back in April 2014 when Louis Van Gaal positioned him to the left of a three man midfield and used him as a strange sort of false battering ram. A between-the-lines siege tower. It utterly flummoxed Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool at Anfield where poor Emre Can could be seen helplessly looking up at the giant mop and trying to figure out how to solve this most unorthodox of problems.
This is one of Fellaini's best performances....for Everton.
— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) December 4, 2016
Ironically, it was Jose Mourinho who finished the experiment at Stamford Bridge when he deployed Kurt Zouma to elbow in on Fellaini’s space and the Belgian was instantly rendered mute. He resumed his shuffling presence further back in United’s midfield and Van Gaal went back to creating other problems and fussing over his fullback’s minutes.
Tactical aficionados will tell you that Fellaini is an ideal player to ‘beat the press’. A safety net for someone to fling to when under pressure. They will also point to his height, physicality and the fact he follows instructions to the letter as admirable traits.
At the beginning of the season, he managed to resemble a professional midfield player for a period and Jose Mourinho hailed this as some sort of triumph. Mourinho spoke of United fans having to apologise to him and told the story of how he convinced him of his importance in the summer.
United fans have never taken to Fellaini – the symbolism of his rushed deadline day overpriced transfer never went away. The catastrophic failures of David Moyes were tied to his guy. He was the very definition of an anti-United player, and while this may be seen as unfair, his diligence and application never stood a chance. Groans over reading his name on a team sheet isn’t misplaced snobbery over what United used to be but rather anger over what they are trying to be now.
United have never set up a side to accentuate Fellaini’s limited gifts yet they have tried to crowbar him into the side at times, a reflection at the muddled thinking post Ferguson. He has never been a
deep-lying midfield player, yet the majority of his starts have come there.
Ryan Giggs spoke on Monday Night Football about Fellaini recently and again hailed his slavish devotion to carrying out his given tasks to the letter. This is the clichéd ‘coach's dream’, the player who will solemnly nod and picture the chalkboard and every instruction as he takes the field. It explains why someone like Mourinho likes him, and how Louis Van Gaal came to rely on him.
Of course there are two other glaring reasons why Manchester United coaches continually go back to Fellaini; his height and build. These two attributes make him the definitive ‘option’. The go-to man to close out a game or to desperately force a winner. If you’re Jose Mourinho and you’re scanning the Manchester United bench yesterday, is it the eager 'pick me!' smile of Juan Mata or the death-glare mop of Fellaini you choose? Mourinho continually convinces himself that an aerial bombardment is forthcoming at the end of games and thus the option of Fellaini become irresistible.
That United almost always cede control when he comes on doesn’t seem to concern Mourinho; by bringing on Fellaini he invites pressure, but he believes the big Belgian is perfect to withstand that pressure.
#mufc's win percentage with Fellaini is 34.4%, without is 60.8% [squawka]
— utdreport (@utdreport) December 4, 2016
The Fellaini substitution is now United’s self-fulfilling prophecy. It works both ways – when needing a goal, the direct option, the elbow deploying chest control becomes the only thing centre-halves can think about.
The whole option of Maurone Fellaini needs to be taken away from Mourinho. He is too tall, too strong, and too bloody obvious for the Portuguese to resist.
For United to move in the direction they want, Fellaini cannot significantly add to his appearance total. If he does, we’ll know Mourinho and United are fast running out of options.