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Fellaini — The Odd One Out?

By Joe Jennings :  16/02/2009 :  Comments (2) :

The signing of Marouane Fellaini on deadline day back in August raised a few eyebrows. It was a bolt from a blue that ended a summer of mismanagement and total ineptitude. It also sparked a great deal of confusion between Evertonians. Despite being told to “Watch this space” amongst other things, it appeared Everton’s transfer kitty was non-existent. Bill, it seemed, continued to survive off handouts whilst telling supporters the club was still for sale to the right buyer.

It was strange then, to see the announcement of a record signing come fifteen minutes before the window slammed shut. Safe to say, nobody knew of Marouane Fellaini, barring the Evertonians who watched on as Standard Liege somehow succumbed to our neighbours in the qualifying stage of the Champions League, of which Fellaini was a part of.

On closer inspection, his performance was one of promise — splendour in fact. Only a real midfield maestro could keep Steven Gerrard quiet over two legs, right? Encouraged, YouTube was invaded by excited Blues and we found clips of our new bushy icon powering headers home against Belgian’s elite left, right and centre. Bearing in mind Fellaini considered himself a defensive midfielder in an early interview following inking a five-year deal, we could have been forgiven for believing he was the younger, enhanced version of Lee Carsley we desperately desired. We had shipped out the unglamorous Brummy for one of Europe’s up and coming talents.

The Britannia Stadium was the venue for Fellaini’s Everton debut. He lined up alongside fellow new boy Segundo Castillo in the middle of midfield. They say first impressions last, and Marouane’s wasn’t a particularly inspiring one. But we couldn’t judge him on his first game in English football, it would have been foolhardy at best and nitpicky at worst, surely? After all, he won the odd header and sprayed a few decent 10-yard balls, the makings of a good player appeared present, right?

Hull at the KC Stadium was Fellaini’s next outing in the Royal Blue. Barring a cross field ball to Phil Neville in the first half, the game completely bypassed our record buy and I think it’s fair to say a few started to wonder what the Belgian offered other than a daft barnet.

After an awful forty-five away at Blackburn in the cup — which in all fairness was the same for every Everton player — we prepared for ‘Felli’ to outwit, out battle and outclass Steven Gerrard for the third time in the space of a month as the Goodison derby approached. This would be the game when Fellaini would really stamp his mark on our team. The games to adapt had been and gone, a combustible Goodison atmosphere would spark the outwardly lethargic Belgian into life.

We would come away from this one and think “Boy, he’s going to be some player”. Sadly, this eventuality failed to transpire. In fact, Fellaini was a point of ridicule to the filthy red hordes who looked on and laughed at what seemed to be a catastrophic error of judgment on David Moyes’ part. A criminal waste of 15 million pounds. The seed of doubt and doom had been firmly planted.

Here we had a player that looked drastically out of his depth. But we were lumbered with him. Evertonians were divided, though. Some could see what others couldn’t, citing signs of a player that would dominate Premier League games in a few years time. Whilst the others simply commented on what they witnessed on the turf, an ill-equipped performer who offered more hindrance than help.

Manchester United were the next Goodison visitors, and the feelings of impending doom and despondency engulfed what was then a dejected and downbeat Everton fan base. Devoid of passion and with the tactical awareness of Haig at the Somme, Everton had looked clueless on the turf and we clung to hope rather than expectation prior to kick off. After being treated to a first-half footballing lesson, Phil Neville decided to qualify himself as an Evertonian in the second-half with a lunge on Cristiano Ronaldo that sparked what was a Goodison library into a raucous bear pit.

Fellaini seemed to wake up from his hibernation. He began to battle and fight for the Everton cause. Everton were in the ascendancy and the Belgian rose highest from a Phil Neville cross to power home past Edwin van der Sar to send Goodison Park into scenes bordering on delirium. A kiss of the tower didn’t harm Fellaini’s appeal to the Everton faithful. Maybe it was a turning point.

It certainly seemed that way as Jonny-on-the-spot ‘Felli’ netted a last-gasp winner at the Reebok Stadium just four days later. We were beginning to see some sort of return on the unorthodox Screech look-alike. I was encouraged.

The performances were improving and Fellaini seemed to be finally bedding in. No strikers available and just Cahill and Fellaini to rely upon, we can safely say the Belgian delivered. Yet I still retained an uncertainty as to what he was actually bought for, because he certainly wasn’t a defensive midfielder. And if he was, he shouldn’t be have been anywhere near our side, because his positional sense was poor and his speed left a lot to be desired. Add into the mix an inability to tackle and a tendency to give away needless, petulant fouls and the hallmarks certainly didn’t point towards a powerhouse protector.

Now I ask, with the emergence of Jack Rodwell and the prospect of a fully-fit squad come pre-season, where does Marouane Fellaini fit into our plans? If he isn’t a defensive midfielder then why did we sign him, you really do have to ask. The general consensus now seems to be that Fellaini is a long-term replacement for Tim Cahill. We had no urgent need for a Tim Cahill back-up who was not on the same level in terms of passion, mobility or aggression. Call me crazy, but Everton are not a club able to splash out such a huge figure on someone we ‘hope’ will develop in a few years. And what, I ask, if he doesn’t develop? It’s not even worth contemplating as far as I’m concerned. As for the Cahill comparison, I think it’s an insult to our Aussie talisman to mention the two in the same breath, I really do.

Marouane Fellaini is a decent player, who I hope and believe will improve, but not to the sum of 15 million pounds, whatever way you look at it and through whatever haze of bias you opt to select. He can be very effective and at times cause havoc, but the performances against Bolton and Aston Villa verify my belief that he unbalances our side. There are those who regurgitate the initial payment made to Liege and the instalments to be made in the future, this I believe, is a joke of an excuse to mitigate what was the wrong signing for a massive fee.

Ask yourself, with a fully-fit squad, where does he fit in? The simple answer is he doesn’t. Is he anywhere near as effective as Cahill at what Tim does? No. He is too slow, gawky and sluggish for that, not forgetting positionally naïve. To play in central midfield in the Premier League you need to have at least some of what Fellaini hasn’t. I’m concerned.

That concern has only expanded after witnessing the rapid development of Jack Rodwell, who offered a masterclass of how to operate in the middle of midfield against an experienced Aston Villa outfit - at the tender age of 17. The display was an obvious sign of development and a reminder that in Rodwell, here we have a player destined for the very top of the game, I really do believe that. The pending five-year deal he looks set to ink is the cherry on the top at what is a great time to be an Evertonian.

We all expected an immediate return upon our investment, I don’t really consider this idiotic or stupid, most football fans would given such a hefty fee. For that money we should have been signing a player to come in and make an instant, silver service impact on what was a struggling side — a real top level performer. To suggest otherwise is to make excuses and mitigate the consequences of having, in all honesty, the wrong player for a record purchase. A wrong player who truthfully, in our heart of hearts, doesn’t fit in.

Reader Comments

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Jim Potter
1   Posted 28/01/2010 at 17:59

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I feel this is a little unfair, Joe. I think for a youg lad to come over to England, not being able to speak the language and be played out of position is a tough ask of anyone. I believe we’re beginning to see the emergence of an excellent holding midfielder who possesses a real goal scoring threat from set pieces.

He’s beginning to show composure, confidence and the promise of being a dominant figure for years to come. The only draw back to me currently is unfortunately his Dad’s gob is as big as the lad’s hair.

Jim Potter
2   Posted 29/01/2010 at 11:00:09

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I’ve just noticed that your article is nearly a year old. Er ...

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