There's a been a lot of negativity surrounding the big boned Belgian's transfer, with many Manchester United fans taking their ire out on the clunky, clumsy and altogether par-for-the-course product that Marouane Fellaini is. While it makes for an easy read, this is not necessarily true. While it's been clear for some time now that Fellaini was not David Moyes' preferred (first?) target, and that worries people, let's take a step back and evaluate the man's abilities with our midfield's needs.
I'll borrow heavily from two excellent pieces written a few months back by Gene Um, along with some recent stats from Everton's games this season. Please find the referenced articles here, here and here. Also, do note that this article looks past the boardroom and at the pitch/dressing room only. Transfer fees and bonuses have not been considered. (Yeah, that's a subtle way of saying I'm still not over the crap we pulled this summer.)
Looking at our pressing needs in midfield, we have:
- Someone to stand up to the Yaya Toures - someone with bite and power
- Someone to break up opposition plays proactively (Carrick is good in a more passive manner)
- Someone with energy to run around snapping at opposing players' feet
- Goals, goals, even a small number, from midfield.
The other stuff we expect from our midfielders are:
- Be aware and open to receive passes
- Provide overloads in the final third, with usually quick passing
- Be aware when to push up, and when to fall back
- Take care of the ball when in possession
There's no doubt Fellaini is a tough-guy - in fact, he has to rein in his temper at times. The Belgian was famously carded almost every game in his first season or two at the Merseyside club, but has simmered down since then. Last year, he was sent off for reacting to Ryan Shawncross with a head (or was it hair?) butt. Since, he has had no disciplinary problems.
Fellaini is also highly active, with a good engine. While Tom Cleverly is quite good as the 'snapper', he doesn't have the physical gifts to stand up to certain opponents (i.e, he's shorter and smaller than Darren Fletcher!). Tom is also a pretty passive player, almost Spanish in his lack of physicality and clearly hates fouling. Grab a look at the guy's face next time he's forced to bring down an opposing player for Patty Evra's sake.
Goals - well, the myth is that 'Fro scores with his elegantly frizzed out hair like Rickie Lambert, flying in from out of sight like some anachronistic dinosaur. I'll just point readers to that 4-4 at Old Trafford where Fellaini's goal was... well... surprisingly educated. Oh my. A tall man with footballing skill. The heavens gasp.
The biggest worry amongst many is Fellaini's perceived carelessness and clumsiness with the ball at his feet. While he's no Cesc Fabregas (nor Mesut Ozil... nor Thiago Alcantara.. nor..... you get the point), Felli actually boasts a higher pass completion ratio than Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverly in the first two games of the season. Of course, we know Carrick was not at his best these couple of games so take that with a pinch of salt. More importantly, Felli loses possession quite rarely - this means less potential breaks and hand-in-head moments, which is what most of his detractors seem to worry about.
Now, I'm not claiming that Fellaini will be tuned to the quick passing game that Shinji Kagawa, Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Luis Nani et al prefer to play - however it's not a given that because he's big and strong he's incapable of it. Further, it's a wee bit silly to think Moyes will deploy him as a #10 and lump balls up to him - that would require displacing Rooney first, and then Kagawa. In fact, it's an extra weapon in our arsenal to have an amazing header of the ball waiting in the box when we need a goal in the final moments.
Fellaini is not the marquee signing most of us desired - that's maybe a reason why he was left this late in the window. That shouldn't take away from the fact that he's a very good signing that fits an obvious gap in our midfield. The proof of the pudding, though, lies certainly in the eating.