For many Manchester United fans, Marouane Fellaini epitomizes everything negative about life at Old Trafford since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær replaced José Mourinho in December, the big Belgian hasn’t started a first team fixture. He is currently injured but even when he has been fit, Fellaini has just two appearances as a substitute under the Norwegian.
According to reports in the media, the midfielder is set for a big money move to China, having passed a medical. As the transfer deadline over there doesn’t expire until February, there is no hurry to rush through a deal. When the transfer does go through, a lot of fans who believe a player such as Fellaini has no right to wear the red shirt will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
The irony about Fellaini’s transfer from Everton in 2013 is that not only was he the first big signing of the post-Fergie era, he is also a central midfielder. This is an area that United fans had been complaining about for several years, due to the fact that the last players signed for that position were Owen Hargreaves and Anderson, both in the summer of 2007.
Despite being linked with a whole host of midfielders in that six-year period, Wesley Sneijder being the most prominent, Ferguson preferred to go with home grown options such as Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverley. It was almost as though he was proving a point that he didn’t need to strengthen that area, especially when he played Rafael in central midfield ahead of a young Paul Pogba.
After a summer transfer window where United were linked with huge names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Thiago Alcântara, the signing of Fellaini left the fans severely underwhelmed. What didn’t help matters is that because they waited until the last day of the window to secure his signature, United paid £4 million more than they would have six weeks earlier, due to an expired clause in his contract at Goodison Park.
If the signing of Fellaini didn’t leave the fans feeling flat enough, the defence of their Premier League title was an unmitigated disaster. The fact that David Moyes gave the impression of a man who didn’t believe he was good enough for the job was probably one of the reasons why United went from Champions to 7th place in less than a year. It also meant that Moyes didn’t even last the season.
When Ryan Giggs took over as caretaker manager following Moyes’ dismissal, Fellaini played just one of his four games in charge. This would seem to indicate that Giggs didn’t believe he was a United player any more than the fans did.
Van Gaal and Mourinho
When Louis van Gaal became United’s first foreign manager in 2014, Fellaini quickly became one of his trusted lieutenants. With the Belgian not being noted for blistering pace or acceleration, the Dutchman’s slow, pedestrian style of play suited him well. He scored his first United goal, an absolute belter, in 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion. He followed it up with another six that season, one of which put United ahead in a 4-2 win over Manchester City, and was a key part of the side which secured a top four finish.
After van Gaal was sacked following the 2016 F.A. Cup Final, it was widely expected that Fellaini would follow him out of the Old Trafford door. On the contrary, the Belgian became one of the few players Mourinho came to rely on. This is no surprise, as Fellaini fits the profile of the type of footballer Mourinho favours; big, strong and aggressive. The fact that he is not a particularly skilful player was irrelevant. The manager trusted him, and he always gave 100% in a United shirt; nobody could ever say otherwise.
Why Fellaini was always Doomed to Fail
When the word Manchester United is mentioned, Marouane Fellaini is just not the sort of player who springs to mind. In fact, he is kind of the antithesis of everything that Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby and stood for. His height, strength and aerial ability make him a very viable Plan B, and therein lies the problem. No great United side has ever needed a player like that, and the fact that they have relied on it so often under the last two managers shows just how much standards have fallen.
Even before his move to Old Trafford, the Belgian had the kind of reputation for elbowing opponents that Luis Suárez has for biting them. He seems like a red card waiting to happen, even though he has only been sent off twice in his time at United.
One point that is worth noting is that he is one of the most committed players at the club. His effort and work rate are matched by few. In the 2017 Europa League Final, many believed he was the real man of the match, despite the official award going to Ander Herrera. It’s also worth noting that he has scored in three semi-finals over the last few years, so nobody can say he was a total waste of money.
One of the biggest problems is that Fellaini’s style of play pretty much sums up Manchester United in the last five years; slow, clumsy, painful to watch. The fact that Solskjær is seemingly sanctioning his departure from the club, despite there being no guarantee that he will be in charge next season, tells its own story. Like Giggs, he is United through and through, and knows that there is no place for that type of player at Old Trafford.
After five years of sleep-inducing football, it looks like United are planning on returning to the style of football for which they have been famous. Fast, exciting attacking play that gets bums off seats is even more important to the fans than a full trophy cabinet. In no way does Fellaini fit into that category.
When Fellaini does leave United, it’s unlikely that too many fans will remember him with any fondness. They will probably forever associate him with David Moyes, and all that came after it. It seems fitting that, just as Mourinho’s sacking lifted the gloom at Old Trafford, one of the biggest symbols of the past five grim years is set to follow him out of the door.
Some of the abuse Fellaini has endured from the fans over the years may seem a bit harsh, especially as it’s not really his fault. The whole world knew what type of player he was before United bought him. Nobody can blame him for wanting to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, as it’s hard to imagine a side like Barcelona or Real Madrid coming in for him. All he has done is play his natural game, and he has done it to the best of his ability.
Maybe one of the reasons he gave his all in every game is that he himself realised how lucky he was to be putting on that shirt. It’s a shame some of his more naturally gifted team mates haven’t always put his level of effort in over the years. The fact is that everything that has happened at Old Trafford over the last five years just isn’t Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini is the biggest example of that; he just isn’t a United player.
Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney’s future has finally been resolved. After thirteen years at Old Trafford, he has returned to his boyhood club, Everton. He returns to Goodison Park having won every trophy at club level, and plenty still to offer the Blues.
With the transfer of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku expected to be finalised from Everton within the next 24 hours, Rooney would have found getting into the United first team ever harder next season, had he stayed. This would have seriously impacted any hope he had of going to next year’s World Cup, given that he was dropped from Gareth Southgate’s squad last season.
Last season was the first time since his arrival that Rooney was not an automatic choice for United. As the campaign wore on, it seemed that the Red Devils were a more effective unit without their captain. The result was that Rooney started just 25 games in all competitions; including the Community Shield, United played 64 matches. Statistics like those tell their own story, especially when Rooney stayed injury free all season.
The fact is that Wayne Rooney is one of those players who has to play all the time, in order to get the best out of him. The fact that he has declined over the last few years is not in doubt, but this is one aspect of his game that has not disappeared. Even when he was at his devastating best, if he spent any prolonged period of time out of the team, it would take him at least two or three game to get back to match fitness. Rooney started seven of United's first eight games, but after that his appearances were rather sporadic. Given that he is well past his peak, his effectiveness was always going to be compromised playing so irregularly.
Another point worth considering is that, at Goodison, he will likely be the main man once more. The truth is that he hasn’t really been that at Old Trafford since United signed Robin van Persie. Even after the Dutchman left two years ago, he was upstaged by new signing Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford’s rise from the youth team.
He won’t have the same pressure at Everton, either. While Ronald Koeman is trying to build a side capable of breaking into the Champions League, that’s the minimum expectation at United. Louis van Gaal found this out the hard way. Playing every week, free from the pressure that comes with wearing the red shirt, Rooney might produce his most consistent form. If that happens, he will give Southgate something to think about next summer.
Another reason that this was the right time for him to leave is that his standing as an Old Trafford legend remains untouched. Rooney had two years left on his contract, and given how obvious it has been that his powers are on the wane, it would have been painful to watch this once great player trying to justify the substantial wages he was earning.
In the past, great players such as Eric Cantona and Paul Scholes bowed out just at the right time – even if it took the latter two goes. As soon as they knew they weren’t the player that got them the reputation, they didn’t hang around tarnishing their reputation. Brian McClair is a good example of a player who probably stayed at least two years later than he should. Wayne Rooney leaves Old Trafford having just won the Europa League, the only trophy that was missing from his collection.
Following his departure, there have been plenty of polls on Twitter as to whether Rooney really is a United legend. The question should not even need to be asked. It’s true he embarrassed the club with his transfer request in 2010, followed by his subsequent U-turn which culminated in him signing a new contract. The fact that he never quite became the player he promised to be is also not in doubt. What cannot be questioned, however, is that he is United’s all-time top goalscorer, a feat he achieved while barely into his thirties. Other than the UEFA Super Cup, he has won every club competition he has ever played in. If he isn’t a United legend, it begs the question of what more he would have had to do to become one?
The same can be said of England as well, as he is also his country’s highest ever scorer. While he hasn’t lit up an international tournament since Euro 2004, neither have any of his other international team mates. Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Frank Lampard are all regarded as England legends. What exactly did they do for their national team? What records did they break? None, so if they are legends for their country, so is Rooney. Unlike those players, however, he still has a chance to do something at a major tournament.
A good example of how Wayne Rooney will be remembered by most United fans, is the videos that are shared by many United pages on social media. Robin van Persie wasn’t the same player in his final season as the one that had won us the title, but these pages constantly show videos of his best goals. Rooney was at Old Trafford ten years longer than van Persie. Given some of the great goals he scored in a red shirt, such as the overhead kick against City, his debut hat trick against Fenerbahçe and the halfway line lob against West Ham, that is how United fans will remember him.
Rooney leaves Manchester United at exactly the right time, for him, United and England. He still potentially has three or four years left at the top level, if he looks after himself. He will be playing in the Premier League for his boyhood club, with the opportunity to go to the World Cup. He could have hung around at Old Trafford, picking up his wages and playing the occasional Champions League game. The reality is that he is at the stage of his career where he just wants to play football.
The cliché says that statistics only tell half the story, and there is a lot of truth to that statement. Once thing is for certain, however. With 253 goals from 559 appearances, Wayne Rooney’s legend at United will remain intact, despite what his haters say.
The summer transfer window saw a number of depatures from Old Trafford. While most fans will accept that the majority of these transfers were necessary, it was with a hint of sadness that Mexican striker Javier Hernández Balcázar brought down the curtain on his five years as a Manchester United.
Much like when United signed Ole Gunnar Solskjær, when the signing of Javier Hernández was announced in April 2010, there were many Reds who asked the question “Who’s he?”. Nobody had ever heard of him. It wouldn’t be only comparison to Solskjær during his time at Old Trafford.
The fact he was an unknown is not altogether surprising, especially as “Chicharito” had only made his debut for Mexico the previous September. An unspectacular start to his professional career at C.D. Guadalajara was swiftly followed by a barrage of goals which put him on the radar of Manchester United. Knowing that the upcoming World Cup would potentially alert the major European clubs to his presence if he had a good tournament, the deal was concluded in absolute secrecy, with Hernández’s agent and most of his family kept in the dark until it was announced.
What is certain is that every Manchester United fan I knew watched Mexico’s games with interest that summer, and were all excited by what they saw, as Hernández scored two great goals, against France and Argentina respectively. The next time we saw him was in a pre-season friendly in the MLS All Star game, where he scored a superb chip from outside the area less than 20 minutes after coming off the bench.
When Hernández made his official debut in the 2010 FA Community Shield against Chelsea, he scored a goal which was the stuff of comedy, but showed fans that this was a player who will get the ball in the net at any cost, demonstrated as he miskicked the ball into his own face before watching it fly into the goal.
It took a while for Chicharito to get his first competitive goal, but at the end of September, he scored a late winner against Valencia in the Mestalla, securing three valuable Champions League points. A couple of weeks later, he grabbed his first Premier League goal, against West Bromwich Albion in front of the Stretford End. At the time, Rooney was suffering a post-World Cup hangover, injured and in a contract stand-off with United, meaning that Hernández was given plenty of game time, and he didn’t disappoint.
Blessed with great pace, a poachers’ instinct and a great header of the ball for such a small lad (remember his incredible effort at Stoke City?), the element of surprise that Chicharito brought to Old Trafford meant that he was a breath of fresh air for United fans, and a nightmare for their opponents.
Over the course of his debut season, the little Mexican striker scored twenty goals, including strikes against Chelsea in both the Premier League and in Europe, as well as a late winner against Everton to seal three priceless points, as United coasted to a record breaking 19th league title. He also started the Champions League Final against Barcelona, but we knew we were heavy underdogs going into that game and it was no surprise when that team, at the peak of its powers, brushed us aside mercilessly at Wembley.
Hernández’s success in his first season won United a new army of fans in Mexico, and saw him win the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year, as well as being a contender for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Over the next couple of seasons, his goal output diminished slightly, as Danny Welbeck and Robin van Persie provided stiff competition, but he started to gain the tag of “Super-sub” after making a habit of scoring important goals when introduced from the bench. Some were calling him the “Baby-Faced Assassin mark two”. A good example of this was when United found themselves 2 – 0 down at Villa Park in November 2012, and Hernández’s introduction sparked a comeback which saw the Little Pea robbed of a Hat Trick only by the Dubious Goals panel. This was a game which many saw as a crucial factor in United’s 20th league title.
It’s All Downhill From Here
When Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, this was the start of the decline for Hernández. Poor form under new boss David Moyes saw United finish 7th in the table, and Chicharito fail to get into double figures for the first time since arriving in England, finishing the campaign with just nine goals.
When Louis van Gaal took charge last year, he shipped Hernández out on loan to Real Madrid, clearly believing that the Mexican striker did not fit into his plans, and brought in Colombian striker Radamel Falcao on loan from Monaco.
Hernández did well at the Bernabéu, even scoring a crucial goal against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals, but his role there mirrored the one he had at Old Trafford, with most of his appearances coming as a substitute. At the start of this season, after a few appearances from the bench for United, Hernandez was sold to Bayer Leverkusen for around €9 million.
Good Luck, Son
Chicharito will always be looked on fondly by Manchester United fans. It’s sad to think we won’t see that smile light up Old Trafford, after scoring a crucial goal, ever again, but it is no great surprise that he has been sold. He clearly wasn’t a major part of the managers’ plans, although given our lack of strikers at the moment, it is a surprise we didn’t keep hold of him. It’s also no surprise that there were no shortage of takers, as several Premier League clubs were interested.
The fact that he has gone to Germany means there is less chance of him coming back to haunt us, although it would not be a surprise to see him back in England in the future. At most clubs in the Premier League, he would be a certain starter. If he does well in Germany, as I expect he will, don’t be surprised if a club like Tottenham or Everton make a bid to bring him back.
When he played in the early stages of this season, he looked like a player drained of confidence. He knew that he wasn’t a key player any more at Old Trafford, and as much as he loves the club, he probably couldn’t wait to leave after two frustrating seasons. I predict that he will go on to become a huge favourite at Bayer Leverkusen. After all, the only thing he wants to do is play football.
If there was one major criticism I could level against him, it’s that he gets caught offside a little too often, as someone with his pace shouldn’t need a head start, as he is faster than most defenders. With this in mind, however, I don’t know if this is still an issue, as I’ve barely seen him play for eighteen months.
He has always spoke highly of our club, and the fans have a huge affection for the “Little Pea”. Javier Hernández Balcázar, Ultimate United salutes you, and thank you for all of your efforts over the last five years. We wish you the best of luck in the rest of your career.
Portuguese forward Nani has already signed for Turkish giants Fenerbahçe, and Dutch striker Robin van Persie is to reportedly have a medical ahead with the same club, ahead of his proposed move there. With the Turkish Superliga some distance behind the Premier League in terms of intensity, and quality, you would back both players to become a huge success there, with the added bonus of almost guaranteed Champions League participation every season.
In fairness, we got what we wanted from van Persie, and he got what he wanted from us. He wanted to win the Premier League, and if he was leaving Arsenal, only United and City were realistic destinations for him to achieve this. We knew we were signing him at his absolute peak, and when you consider that he was the main reason that we wrested the Premier League title back from City in 2013, I would say he was worth every penny. It was a move that suited both parties. A marriage of convenience.
Arsenal fans would probably tell you that he would have won the title by now if he had stayed at the Emirates – I can’t see it myself. They have never really struggled to score goals, with or without RVP, but one thing Arsene Wenger has struggled (or refuses) to do is to see the areas of his side that need strengthening. They have addressed the goalkeeping problem (they haven’t had a top class keeper since David Seaman) by signing Petr Cech, but they still need reinforcements at the back, and they have lacked a world class anchorman since Patrick Vieira left ten years ago. They are awash with creative midfielders, but the problem for them over the last decade has been that they don’t know how to win ugly when it’s needed most – something all Premier League winning sides know how to do.
RVP hasn’t looked happy since Fergie retired. When that happened, his whole body language seemed to change. Apparently, when David Moyes came in, the specialised training regime devised to keep RVP on the pitch and out of the treatment room was discarded – a move which was rewarded by van Persie missing approximately a third of the season, having barely missed a game the previous two seasons. But what also didn’t probably help was that United went from having a totally winning mentality under Ferguson, to being a side that wanted to “contain” Newcastle at Old Trafford.
When Louis van Gaal came in, it was widely expected that playing under his compatriot would revitalise him, especially given how he performed against Spain and Brazil at the World Cup. If anything, van Persie seemed to go backwards, some believe this is because he made Rooney captain, rather than him. Maybe a parting of the ways is exactly what is needed for him to start enjoying his football again.
A lot of people have referred to Robin van Perise as Ferguson’s “leaving present to himself”. Well £24million looks like an absolute bargain when you consider the moments it gave us. Given his age at the time we signed him, we knew it wasn’t going to be a long term investment.
By comparison, Nani has to be one of the most frustrating players ever to wear the Red of United. His talent is there for all to see, a fact acknowledged in a tweet by Rio Ferdinand earlier this week. You could watch a YouTube video and think you were looking at one of the greatest players you’ve ever seen, judging by what he could do with the ball. Two great feet, pace to burn and an absolute rocket of a shot, usually followed by an acrobatic flip. In addition, his goals and assists record stands up to any inspection – another example of why statistics only tell you half the story.
It strikes me, however, that Nani was never quite able to step out of the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo. It looked like he was always trying to emulate him and, however talented he may be, very few players that have ever played the game get to that level. Another area that always let him down was his decision making. This aspect of his game initially hindered Ronaldo as well, but after his first couple of seasons, he learned when to shoot, when to pass and when to hold onto it – something that seems to have continued to escape Nani. Maybe he didn’t practice this as much as Ronaldo.
His great spells for the team all seemed to come in streaks rather than consistently. When he was on form, United fans would be treated to a veritable portfolio of skills, tricks and wizardry. When he wasn’t feeling it, however, we might as well have been playing with ten men. As with Anderson, you always got the feeling there was more in the locker. But United reached three Champions League Final’s in the time Nani was at the club – he didn’t start a single one of them. This was understandable in 2008, but he didn’t even get on the pitch against Barcelona the following year. He had a brief cameo from the bench two years later, but with the talent this lad possessed, by this time he should have been one of the first names on the team sheet by then.
There is no way either player can be labelled a failure at United. The good moments Nani enjoyed, such as the 30 yard strike against Tottenham, and the magical trickery against Arsenal at the Emirates in 2010, in addition to the medals he collected, will ensure he is never forgotten by the majority of Reds. As for van Persie, he can look back and say he almost single handedly won us title number 20 in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season as manager – and some of the goals he scored in the process were just ridiculous.
Both players were brought in for big money, and Fenerbahçe will end up paying a pittance by comparison. You cant exactly say either was a waste of money, given their contribution, and I hope these moves revitalise the careers of both men.
But in both cases, you get the feeling they could have done even more.
So it was confirmed over the weekend that Radamel Falcao will not be offered a deal by Manchester United, or even an extension of the loan deal. While it’s not exactly unexpected, it is a shame that it didn’t work out for him. I know a lot of United fans share my sentiments on this, although, understandably, there will be some that will just point to his goals per games record, and say “good riddance”. So why didn’t it work out for a striker who, two years ago, could have had his pick of the top European clubs?
Seems to me there are several reasons. The injury he sustained just over a year ago, an anterior cruciate ligament injury, is not the easiest to come back from. Some players never recover that form, and it did seem as though the lad was missing half a yard of that explosive pace that destroyed Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup Final in 2012. With that, he also seems to be missing a bit of confidence, and also playing in a league he is unfamiliar with, as well as adapting to a new country. Some players take around 18 months to two years to recover. It’s very possible that some lucky club will get to see the real Falcao next season, back to his devastating best. In fact, that would just be typical.
It would also be fair to say that, with the way United have set up their teams at times this season, we didn’t exactly play to his strengths. It’s not as though he was missing chance after chance – we honestly weren’t creating many for him. Despite this, there was never any lack of effort from Falcao. Unlike certain players who have sulked in the past (and present) when the team isn’t being built exactly to their needs, Falcao would drop back into midfield to help out, and maybe just to see some of the ball. I think it’s this kind of attitude that has endeared him to most United fans. But seeing as the approach taken by Louis van Gaal has gotten us back into the top four, it’s hard to say he made the wrong decision. Had he gone Gung-Ho at the opposition, playing a style of football that suited Falcao, we may not have gotten back into the Champions League picture – then again, the team chasing us just got done 6 – 1 by Stoke City, so we probably would have been fine.
When it was announced that Falcao was joining us, there was an immediate buzz among United fans. Facebook and Twitter were alive with expectation. Finally, after years of under spending, we were bringing proven world class talents to the club. If this lad worked out, combined with Rooney, van Persie, Di Maria and Mata, it looked like the rest of the Premier League was in serious trouble. Unfortunately, after just four goals from his 29 appearances, it’s safe to say that it just wasn’t meant to be.
Practically every United fan I know wanted it work out for the man who smashed goalscoring records at Porto and Atletico Madrid (his 17 goals from 14 Europa League in 2010 – 11 games is a record in that competition), and scored more than 100 goals in his first three seasons in Europe. And it was clear from Falcao’s body language that he wanted to stay, wanted to be a success here. He has since said that he felt the love of the fans, and it’s probably fair to say that he was, at times, trying too hard.
It just seemed as though everything that could have gone wrong for Falcao during this loan spell, did. Even thinking back to when we played Queens Park Rangers away earlier this year. It looked like he’d missed an open net, until you saw the replay on television, when it became clear that the faintest of touches from the defender had actually taken the ball away from him, thus denying Falcao a clear shot.
Dmitry Rybolovlev, the majority owner of AS Monaco may have to drop his asking price if he does want to cash in on Falcao. Any fans who wondered why the Colombian was allowed to come on loan in the first place, should realise that Rybolovlev is going through a divorce that could cost him half of his estimated $8.5 billion fortune, which wasn’t the case when Monaco signed him. With that hanging over your head, it makes sense to let someone else pay the rather substantial wages Falcao earns. If van Gaal had really wanted to keep Falcao, he could have said to Monaco “we’d like to keep him, but you cannot expect £43 million for a player who doesn’t even have five goals to his name, but we’ll give you £15 million. Or we’ll extend his loan by another year”. Something tells me that Rybolovlev wouldn’t be in much of a position to argue.
He’ll head to the Copa America this summer with Colombia, where he will be hero-worshipped by the fans of his country. Hopefully a good tournament will give him the confidence to make the most of the rest of his career. He should be in his peak years now, and I hope he manages to get his career back to at least something like his best.
So I think I would speak on behalf of most United fans when I say good luck with the rest of your career, Radamel, and we are genuinely sorry that things didn’t work out for you here. We appreciate the effort that you put in during your time in a Red shirt – nobody could ever accuse you of not trying. We all wanted it to work, all dreamed of a United attack with a fully fit and firing Radamel Falcao banging the goals in right left and centre.
If I was manager I would have given you another chance to prove you can still do it at this level, and at least extended the loan by another season – having said that, given the patience you have shown, and the graft you have displayed, you deserve better than to warm the bench at any club, United included.
I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to have another crack at English football, albeit wearing the colours of another club – but please don’t sign for Liverpool. Surely things will never get THAT bad.
You’ll probably come back to haunt us at some point, plenty have in the past. As long as you’re not wearing the colours of Liverpool or Manchester City, we’ll probably forgive you.