Originally it was suggested I might like to choose a midfielder from Manchester United’s history that Marouane Fellaini most resembled and in time could develop into their natural heir at Old Trafford.
The idea has its merits, but when giving it more thought, it soon became clear it's very difficult to compare him to any of United’s most revered midfielders.
Bryan Robson? No, Fellaini doesn’t have the former United captain’s leadership qualities, his all-round game or the stamina to tirelessly go from box to box all game long.
Paul Ince? He and Fellaini are completely different players. United’s first Premier League title triumph in 1993 was built upon Ince’s ability, like Robson, to go box to box, diving into tackles in front of his own and then surging forward into the opponent’s.
How about Roy Keane? Sorry, it is another no. Fellaini can’t dictate the pace of a game like the Irishman, and he doesn’t have the ability to raise the game of all those around him like Keane did, striking fear into both teammates and opponents alike.
Maybe Paul Scholes? Not even close. Arguably the best English player of his generation, Scholes was revered by everyone from Zinedine Zidane to Xavi for his playmaking ability, long and short passing, and his clinical finishing in front of goal. Marouane Fellaini is not that player.
The final candidate is Michael Carrick, but I am afraid that is yet another no. After seven years, Carrick is finally getting the praise he deserves for being the supreme passer that he is and irreplaceable role in effortlessly knitting together United’s attack.
Fellaini likes to see plenty of the ball, but he can’t compete with the range and accuracy of Carrick’s passing.
So, what exactly are United getting for £27.5 million?
Over his five years at Goodison Park, Everton fans witnessed a unique but often frustrating player.
The Belgian is clearly impressive and able to perform the basics well, but can it really be said he excels at any one area of the game?
He is obviously a big, physical player who makes his presence felt in the penalty area, and his height means he naturally wins headers.
Fellaini can tackle, but he doesn’t consistently close players down. And when he tries, he can be too rash. As reported by the BBC, he gave away the most fouls of any player in the Premier League during the calendar year of 2012.
When he arrived at Old Trafford Fellaini, declared his favoured position was as a holding midfielder. As reported in the Daily Mirror, he said, “I will play defensively, but if I can help the team further forward, then I will do that.”
Everyone can have a bad game, but the portents for Fellaini in a central holding role were not good in the embarrassingly poor display he and his teammates put on during the recent 4-1 loss to Manchester City.
He doesn’t win enough tackles or protect the back four enough to genuinely prosper in a defensive role. While Michael Carrick’s starting position is assured, Fellaini doesn’t seem the most obvious midfield partner for him. There is something too static about a Carrick-Fellaini duo.
What Fellaini does bring to United is goals.
He scored 11 in the Premier League for Everton last season, and United haven’t had a central midfielder get into double figures in the league since Paul Scholes in the 2004-05 season.
The only problem is Fellaini scored the majority of these goals playing up front as a No. 10 behind Nikica Jelavic.
That position at United is already taken by Wayne Rooney, so Fellaini might not get as many goal-scoring opportunities.
When Fellaini dropped back to midfield at Everton, he wasn’t as impressive, showing dominance one game but often being absent the next.
David Moyes hailed his new signing’s versatility and ability to play in a variety of positions. “Fellaini can do several different jobs, he can score goals and is effective in different areas,” Moyes said, via the Manchester Evening News.
Versatility can also be a curse in football, and the recent history of such players at United—including John O’Shea, Phil Neville and now Phil Jones—is of good, not great players.
Being moved around the pitch and not having a clearly defined role can affect players' form and lead to unfulfilled potential.
For £27.5 million, United needed a game-changer—someone to influence and win matches, not someone who can be dropped into different roles as the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type.
Marouane Fellaini is a talented player who could now adapt and raise his game at Old Trafford, but he will need to be given a regular position if he is to achieve that.