A BELGIAN, in Scotland, taking about English football. There was an incongruity about Marouane Fellaini’s appearance in Glasgow yesterday.
The Manchester United midfielder was in Glasgow because of the boot. Mercifully, not a reference to the fate of David Moyes, the beleaguered manager who paid £27 million for him last summer, but the new Warriors footwear that Fellaini will kick around in at Old Trafford, and promote in as far-flung places as central Scotland.
Moyes is something of a mentor to Fellaini, 26, and the United experiences of the Belgian international and his Glaswegian taskmaster have appeared entwined. Both men have had a stinking time of it since arriving at the club last summer.
Fellaini was the totemic signing made by Moyes in his first transfer window as United manager. The player’s subsequent poor form, poor luck and wholly unconvincing assimilation into the real powerhouse of English football, and, crucially, the title holders has made him all-too-symbolic when the handover from Alex Ferguson to Moyes is critically assessed.
For Fellaini, assessments have been made far too early, and without reference to circumstances. The midfielder says the season feels as if it is “just starting” for him now, wrist and back injuries having deprived him of the past three months, “a long time in football”. He has returned for the latest mini-revival. Confident away wins against Crystal Palace and West Brom setting United up for Sunday’s pivotal encounter at home to Liverpool – and next week’s Old Trafford second leg of their last 32 Champions League tie, wherein they requiring to overturn a 2-0 deficit.
Currently lying sixth in the Premier League, the season could effectively end for Moyes’ team in the next week, but Fellaini dismisses any suggestion a bad week could impact on the career prospects of a manager he has worked under for the past six years. A man who, in taking him from Standard Liege to Everton and then United, is the most important figure of his career.
“I can only say a huge thank you because I learned so much from him,” Fellaini said of Moyes, who he agreed has assumed a father-figure role. “When I arrived in Everton he spoke to me about English football, the life and the style of the country. Also at Man United he spoke to me about life there as well. It is important because we have football but we also need a life as well.
“I played a lot of games for Everton and had some very good moments there. I could never say something bad about him because he has done everything for me. When I played bad he told me. When I played well he told me. When I have a bad demeanour on the pitch he tells me. When it’s bad off the pitch he tells me that as well. It’s important for me that when I am good he tells me. And when I am bad he does the same.
“Last season when I was suspended for Stoke City [after a headbutt] he was very hard on me. He made me go back out and train alone with him. I was like his son. He is good and have to accept it when I am good or bad.”
United, he is sure, will accept the good and the bad that has come the club’s way under Moyes, with the Belgian seeing a different side of the manager at a club that he says, to him, has been “a different world” to Everton, “with more pressure, the need to win trophies, because there are more fans”.
“What makes United different is that they stand by managers,” Fellaini said. “You look at the career of Sir Alex Ferguson and he managed the club 26 years. You have to give David Moyes time as well. He is a strong character. That’s why he can take the pressure. Given time he will be good for Manchester United.
“For me, he is the same coach. He is maybe more relaxed now – but he is the same he always was. He works hard. There is no change there – he has always worked incredibly hard and that’s why he is the manager of Manchester United. It’s his first year at a new club and it’s difficult for any new manager in the first year. Man United had the same manager for 26 years – to change that is not easy for anyone. The supporters and everybody else has to give him time.”
Fellaini sees the next two games as the chance for United “to show our qualities”. The desire to be fully fit and at full pelt before going to the World Cup finals with one of the outside favourites is an added motivation in the coming months to the midfielder. And, while his recent re-emergence – he scored for Belgium in a 2-2 draw with the Ivory Coast last week – appears good news for one Scot at Old Trafford, it may have halted the rebuilding process another has been on.
Fellaini’s presence squeezes the opportunities for game time for Darren Fletcher only a matter of months after the Scotland international returned following 18 months out following surgery on a bowel condition that threatened his career.
For the Belgian, meanwhile, Fletcher’s presence has made a difficult transition slightly more comforting.
“He is good for the club because he has played a long time for Manchester United,” Fellaini said. “He has a nice, good spirit. He talks a lot with the young players and he is a good man to have in the team. He has helped me to settle in. It’s important to have that at Man United – because it’s not the same club as Everton, for example. You need to have some players who understand it and can talk with players like me, for example, who are new.
“I have a good relationship with Darren and, when he plays, he does some nice work.”