Is Marouane Fellaini the man to address Manchester United’s midfield woes?

Blog by: Saurya

Since Paul Scholes decided to adapt his brand of football to cope with his age, Manchester United have endured a creative void. The problem magnified further when Scholes announced his retirement in 2011. Since then, the erstwhile United manager Sir Alex Ferguson tried to address that issue in a variety of ways, none of which ever seemed to be the ideal solution. Darren Fletcher showed flashes of brilliance, but never quite grew into the creative midfielder his team required, and his career hit an extremely unfortunate roadblock when he was diagnosed with chronic Ulcerative Colitis.

Anderson never quite seemed (or looked) fit enough to complete even sixty minutes of a competitive football match, and youth-team product Tom Cleverley is highly inconsistent, and his influence wavers in the crucial ‘big-games’. Such was United’s detriment that Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs were pushed into midfield, and even Scholes briefly came out of retirement to aid United’s cause.

The likes of Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Ozil and Kevin Strootman were linked with the club, but the rumours remained such. The solution seemed to arrive from Borussia Dortmund last season in the form of Shinji Kagawa, but he too looked out of his depth at times, and under new manager David Moyes so far, he has been frozen out of the first team, failing to make a single competitive appearance.

Now, if Moyes’ last minute hankering for Marouane Fellaini was to be believed, then the Belgian was (in his mind) the answer to the United’s well documented and greatly debated midfield woes. But before we begin to judge that piece of business, consider the following – £27.5m was paid for a player who could’ve been brought for exactly £4m less, if his release clause was met before the 31st of July.

United and Chief Executive, Ed Woodward’s initial priority on deadline day was Ander Herrera of Athletic Bilbao, who had a €30m release clause inserted into his contract. United spent most of the day haggling over that clause, and that deal fell through in the most farcical of circumstances.

Next up, consider that United’s primary target at the very start of the window was Thiago Alcantara, of Barcelona at the time. However, when Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich swooped in to snap up Thiago in a matter of days, in a manner most brutal and efficient, United began to focus their attention on Cesc Fabregas in a deal which was never bound to take place, given Barcelona’s staunch unwillingness to give up the future of their midfield, and Fabregas’ resolve to prove himself at his childhood club.

The sheen – if any – has surely been taken of the Fellaini transfer. Still, one mustn’t judge a footballer on the basis of circumstance and the events around him, but mostly on his ability to perform on the pitch, and how he’ll benefit the team’s overall performance. Now that is where the Afro-flaunting Belgian seems a suspect signing.

It was never doubted that Fellaini would jump at the chance to join his former manager at Manchester United as soon as possible, given that Moyes oversaw his development into a dangerous attack-minded midfielder over the past few years at Everton. However, Fellaini is not quite the answer to the questions United’s still dodgy midfield poses. What United needed was a player much in the guise of one they gave up to Juventus last year: Paul Pogba; a natural box-to-box midfielder, greatly similar to Yaya Toure, who would provide defence splitting through-passes when needed, stride forward to support the attack when needed, and sit deep and dictate play in a Patrick Vieira-esque manner at other times.

What United got, however, is a player who can score the occasional headed goal, and sit in front of the defensive line as a holding midfielder, using his intimidating stature to good effect. Here is where the conundrum lies – during open play, Fellaini is at his best in an advanced attacking role, drawing defenders towards him, and freeing up spaces for the striker, or, marauding towards goal himself and supplying the end product, and not in a defensive midfield as he spent his initial years at Everton.

He neither has the defensive nor creative ability to justify his position as a holding midfielder. In fact, his stellar return of 17 goals from midfield over the last two seasons masks his shortcomings as a ball player. And that is precisely where United will be in a fix. United have versatile forwards in Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, all of whom can play in a deeper second-striker role, and another out-and-out poacher in Javier Hernandez.

The presence of Kagawa also means that United have a ball-player to occupy the position just behind an orthodox centre-forward, or a No. 9. So, their other option is to play Fellaini in midfield alongside Carrick/Cleverley, which would essentially mean United retarding their creativity, an area in which they’re sorely lacking in the first place.

The addition of Fellaini guarantees a few additional goals, especially from dead-ball situations. But, and what has concerned most fans, is that United needed a player who would improve their overall play, and create more goal-scoring opportunities for the team. For all the qualities he exhibited during his time at Everton, his creativity was not one of them.

So, United have now overpaid (and how) for a player who will not elevate the team to the standard it needed to be to compete with the best in Europe, and given the transfer activities of all their title rivals – Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham – the League will now be a much tougher place to live in for the Reds. David Moyes may not have quite passed his first Baptism of Fire.

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