“I want to dedicate this win to Fellaini because he deserves it.” No other player in United’s squad has been afforded as much protection this season from José Mourinho. Not even Mourinho’s captain on the pitch, Zlatan Ibrahimović, has been exempt from criticism. Paul Pogba has been fiercely defended in the media, but even he never had a win dedicated to him. No, it is Marouane Fellaini who has been first among equals in that group of Mourinho’s favorites.
Fellaini is emblematic of the rudderless post-Fergie era. A player who no one really wanted, who I personally once rated as being worse at football than a literal toilet brush, who never looked at any point like being United quality, ended the season as a first-team fixture and looking less likely than ever to be moved on.
“He is a player and a person I like and the person is more important. He will always have my protection and trust.” And that’s just it. Despite being slower than the passage of time, with a first touch that only a mother could love, and being unquestionably the worst passer of a ball seen at United in decades, Fellaini has earned the manager’s trust. Mourinho stuck by him through the many near-disastrous appearances earlier in the season, and was somewhat vindicated by the few surprisingly effective ones later on. Fellaini’s presence in the team was so confounding this year that we even gave him his own end of season awards category.
Mourinho managed to coax more useful performances out of Fellaini than both his predecessors combined. The big Belgian grew in confidence as the season progressed, and had perhaps his finest performance in a United shirt in the Europa League final. He demonstrated deftness in possession and intelligence roaming off the ball, and even managed to be dominant in the air without constantly elbowing people in the head.
It would be alarming if Fellaini were to start next season as a first choice player, or even as a primary option off the bench, but we may be stuck with him in United colors for a while yet.
José Mourinho approval rating: A forcefully executed, but loving headbutt.