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Coping with two more years of Marouane Fellaini

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Fan favorite signs new contract. Everyone is thrilled.

Manchester United v FC Basel - UEFA Champions League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

On Friday morning, Manchester United made it officialMarouane Fellaini is not going anywhere. No piano solo or clever hashtag trumpeted this announcement, with only the simplest of press releases confirming the new two-year deal. After months of speculation and doubt over the midfielder’s future, the club declared itself delighted.

The fans? Decidedly less so.

Marouane Fellaini is not the most popular guy at Old Trafford. When the 2017/18 season ended with no contract extension, many supporters hoped that closed the book on his United career. Rumored interest from new Arsenal manager Unai Emery only made Fellaini’s departure seem all the more inevitable.

Surprise! He’s back until at least 2020, although it could be longer since his new deal includes an option year on the back end.

Fellaini has been a divisive figure since day one, signed at the deadline from Everton in David Moyes’s first season in charge. United dithered all summer long, fruitlessly chasing La Liga stars before paying over the odds for Fellaini at the last minute.

In many ways, Fellaini still symbolizes the disappointment and frustration of that season. When United plummeted to seventh in the Premier League, Moyes mercifully got the boot. Fellaini, though, just keeps sticking around.

Some thought a new manager — first Louis van Gaal and then José Mourinho — would roust him from the club and bring in a more cultured replacement. But, come on, Mourinho was always going to love this guy.

If he had signed Fellaini at Chelsea, no one would have batted an eye. Mourinho’s best teams, whether Real Madrid or Inter Milan, always embraced an imposing playing style, preferring to bully the opposition off the ball rather than just pass it around. Love him or loathe him, Fellaini is made for that kind of game.

Throw in his famed knack for rigidly following tactical instructions and this Fellaini-Mourinho bromance makes a lot of sense.

“I am very happy Marouane is staying with us,” Mourinho enthused in the club’s statement. “I always believed in his desire to stay with the club and I am delighted that he has signed a new contract.”

For his part, Fellaini explained that much of his decision came down to the manager: “I feel like this team, under José, still has a lot we want to achieve. I would like to say a special thank you to Jose for the faith he has always shown in me.”

The player reportedly accepted a pay cut to £100,000/week in exchange for the security of a second guaranteed year. That seems pretty steep for a squad player, but Jesse Lingard’s extension last year shows that’s about the going rate at Manchester United.

And that’s what Marouane Fellaini should be — a squad player. Over the next few seasons, that’s one role he should be able to handle perfectly well. In particular, Fellaini can be a useful asset to bring on late in games whether protecting a lead or chasing a much-needed goal.

Don’t start him. Don’t count on him to be a creative spark in midfield. Definitely don’t expect a match-winner. But Fellaini can still play a role in a successful Manchester United side.

In short, Marouane Fellaini should be John Obi Mikel 2.0. At Chelsea, Mourinho routinely brought Mikel on late in games to add a bit of steel to midfield and slowly take the air out of the game. Some might call it glorified mop-up duty, but every club needs a defensive stalwart whom the manager trusts.

Fans don’t love it, but if a Mourinho team has the lead late in the second half, he’s probably going to try to shut the game down. Bring Fellaini on, let him muscle around in midfield for a quarter hour, and collect the three points. That’s surely how the manager sees it, anyway.

And, to be fair, don’t sell his attacking “talent” short either. Fellaini is a presence in the box and pretty capable in the air. As much as it offends the purists, sometimes route one football is the quickest way back into the game. It hasn’t always been pretty, but Fellaini has bagged 20 goals for the club in 156 appearances.

The biggest concern should be Fellaini’s fitness. He just suffered through an injury-plagued season at United, managing only five starts in the Premier League and missing most of the club’s cup ties. With Fellaini at the advanced age of 30, Ed Woodward must be a bit concerned at handing him a multi-year commitment.

While definitely not the outcome many fans hoped for, Marouane Fellaini’s new deal is not the end of the world. Now it’s just up to José Mourinho and his new-look coaching staff to put the big Belgian in the right role.