Manchester United and Arsenal pulled off two of the best deals of the transfer window when they signed Marouane Fellaini and Mesut Ozil respectively. However, as good as those deals appear to be on paper, the two clubs would have been better served swapping targets.
Neither David Moyes' first foray into the transfer market as Manchester United boss nor Arsene Wenger's trek through the summer could hardly be described as astounding. The two respective clubs left their dealings to the very last minute. As such, they garnered many of the headlines in the following days.
Who was the better signing?
The two players they bought are largely seen as "marquee signings" and have been celebrated and accepted without question by many fans. The truth though is that both clubs could have done far better in the market and strengthened far more significantly had they bought each other's key signing.
Both players are expected to make their Premier League debuts this weekend, and they should be successes at their new clubs. However, Ozil and Fellaini would have been far better captures for United and Arsenal respectively than the other way around.
United were linked with ex-Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas throughout the summer before he was quoted in the Guardian as saying he had never "thought about leaving" Barcelona. The Red Devils were also heavily linked with Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera before that particular transfer took a bizarre turn of events also, according to the Guardian.
Fabregas and Herrera are largely seen as creative midfielders. They are exactly the kind of player United have been crying out for the last couple of years. Both players rebuffed Moyes' advances for continued life in La Liga. It was therefore more than surprising to see Moyes return to Everton to snap up Fellaini—who is a completely different kind of player—for £27.5m, according to ESPN.
If anything, United's capture of Fellaini smacks of a lack of planning, foresight, insecurity and a hint of desperation to appease their expectant fans.
As a player, Fellaini is very different than either of Manchester United's previous midfield targets. Fabregas and Herrera are widely seen as classy playmakers. The giant Belgian, on the other hand, is more of a blunt instrument. He has a great knack for arriving in the box at the right time, and his 11 goals in 31 games last season reflect this.
He is no midfield playmaker though.
Fellaini is not the same kind of creative player Fabregas or Herrera is. In his three games for Everton this season, he has a pass-success rate of 89.1 percent. This is obviously a decent statistic. However, the majority of his time on the ball has been spent in the opposition's final third. It is also worth noting that he has only created one goal-scoring chance. It is fair to say that creativity on the ball is not his forte.
This above heat map gives an example of Fellaini's pitch coverage during a game. It was taken during Everton's 1-0 win over Manchester United last season where the 25-year-old scored and was awarded man of the match.
It is clearly evident that Fellaini is a player who is utilized best in an advanced midfield position. His return of just 35 complete passes reflects a tight game. It also, however, reflects a player who is not dictating the tempo of the game. His core skills are the timing of advance runs into the box and his immense physicality.
Fellaini is almost 6'5" in his bare feet and must reach almost 7'0" when his Afro is taken into account. He is not the kind of player you would like to face in a confrontation and expect to come out on the better side. To give further credence to his ability to intimidate and take up arms against the opposition, all one has to realize is that since 2011 no other player has given away more fouls in the Premier League.
The total of those fouls reads at a staggering 176 since 2011, according to Who Scored.
While there is some merit to the argument that United need a little more of a physical edge in midfield, they would be better served with a player who has the ability to dictate the game in its entirety from the middle of the park.
There is only so much that Michael Carrick can do. The England international was the Red Devils' best player in their uninspired title win last season.
As the most disciplined member of Sir Alex Ferguson's team, Carrick did and still does all the donkey work in midfield. Importantly, he is not the key creator in the team. He needs to be partnered with such a player to strike a better balance in the team.
Moyes recognized this fact immediately upon moving to his new club. This is why he tried so desperately to sign Fabregas from Barcelona all summer. Yet, somehow he ended up with the monster truck that is Fellaini instead of a Maserati that is so obviously Fabregas—or Mesut Ozil.
The opposite can be said of Arsenal's dealings in the transfer window. There can be little doubt that the Gunners would have benefited massively from a player like Fellaini in center midfield.
If one element links the entirety of Arsenal's midfield, it is that they lack physicality.
Wenger possesses excellent players who can keep the ball moving from one end of the pitch to the other and back again. They are what is commonly known as "continuity players" in football circles because they keep the continuity of the game flowing.
Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky have many, many similarities as players. They are all but interchangeable despite some different skill sets, and none is physically intimidating—like Fellaini.
So when Wenger delved into the transfer market, he did not buy the striker his fans were craving. Nor did he buy a player like Fellaini, who would have brought a new element to his team.
He signed Ozil.
Class act that the 24-year-old German international is, he is simply more of the same.
Arsenal would have been far better served by adding the physicality and goals of Fellaini to midfield rather than the playmaking genius who is Ozil. Likewise, Manchester United would have been better off with Ozil in their team than Fellaini.
Ozil is a continuity player supreme and is not sufficiently different enough to Arsenal's current players to repair the obvious flaws in the team. At United he would have been an ideal partner to Carrick, as they would have dovetailed beautifully.
Fellaini would have been able to bring something different to the Arsenal game and provide an edge in midfield they have not had in almost a decade. Ozil for United makes so much sense that it is scary Moyes never turned his attention away from Barcelona to Real Madrid when the answer was staring straight at him.
The German international would have brought the goals, assists, playmaking and midfield-dictating ability that his team is so badly missing at the highest level.
In the short-term, both players are bound to be successes. They are top-class professionals and have well-earned reputations.
With Ozil in the team, however, Arsenal will be no nearer to winning the Premier League than they were last season. Likewise, Fellaini's addition at United will not repair the frailties in their team in the long-term.
It all could have been so different had they moved in opposite directions.
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