Marouane Fellaini might not be a crowd favourite at Old Trafford, but the Manchester United midfielder showed exactly why he has been so highly rated by the club’s recent managers on Saturday.
The Belgian netted United’s fourth goal with a well-executed looping header in the 5-2 pre-season win against Galatasaray, perhaps causing some fans to shake their heads in disbelief in the process.
Not pretty but effective
It’s not that fans want Fellaini to fail at Old Trafford, but the Belgian, who isn’t the most technically-gifted player, is often clumsy and at times simply doesn't look good enough for United, causing some to question how he has remained at the club.
Despite those deficiencies in his game, Fellaini endeavoured – and succeeded – in winning the trust of previous boss Louis van Gaal in the last two seasons with some unattractive but equally functional displays in midfield. The former Everton man looked destined for the exit as soon as the possession-obsessed manager arrived at the club – but the big Belgian somehow outlasted him and is now fighting to extend his stay once again, this time under Jose Mourinho.
Fellaini simply didn’t look like the kind of player that Van Gaal would have the time for when he became manager two summers ago, with their respective styles looking like a total mismatch. However, the Belgian endeared himself to his new boss after a poor debut season under David Moyes by scoring an injury-time winner in a pre-season tie against Valencia in August 2014.
Early season goals
Fellaini went on to score some more vital goals for United that season, including a winner against Crystal Palace in May 2015 to virtually earn the club's top-four place in the Premier League, but his place looked under threat again last summer. Van Gaal had already resumed his clear-out from the previous summer this time last year, and Fellaini was again an obvious candidate to be shifted out of the club.
However, the Belgian showed his manager exactly what he could do before he could be moved on from the club. In a Champions League qualifier last August, United were closing in on a nervy 2-1 win over Club Brugge at Old Trafford in the first leg before Fellaini entered late on.
He came on and scored an injury-time third in typical style, taking the pressure off United going into the second leg as he headed in from a deep cross. It had looked set to be a season that Fellaini wouldn’t be a part of, but he effectively forced Van Gaal into keeping him for a second time.
There is a similar question mark hanging over Fellaini’s role at the club for this season, but with his goal against Galatasaray, the Belgian has given his new boss something to think about yet again. Mourinho will no doubt want a better player than the Belgian in central midfield – most likely Paul Pogba – but he might just keep a place free in his squad for someone like him, as someone who will fight for the team and sometimes make a difference, too.
There’s no guarantee that Fellaini will be afforded another season at Old Trafford, with ex-boss Moyes apparently keen on reuniting with the midfielder at Sunderland, but the Belgian did himself no harm with his performance against Galatasaray. Like him or not, his determination to stay has to be admired, and he certainly shouldn’t be first in line for an exit of the current crop at Old Trafford.