Marouane Fellaini wants to emulate Roy Keane and become a Manchester United legend.
After a tortuous summer, the Belgium international can start preparing to make his United debut against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford today.
Although manager David Moyes knew as soon as he was appointed as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor that he wanted Fellaini to make the switch from Goodison Park with him, it was not until the last dregs of the transfer window that a £27.5 million switch was finally concluded.
But now it has, Fellaini has set his sights on having an Old Trafford career to remember.
“Roy Keane was an aggressive player who could win every ball,” said Fellaini. “Maybe I can do this as well. I can win the ball. I can clear the ball. I can play clean. The manager must decide where I play but I want to play defensive midfield.
“In the past they have had (Eric) Cantona, Keane, (David) Beckham. I hope (I can do it too). I will work hard for this.”
United did not confirm Fellaini had become the fourth most expensive player in their history until 2am on 3 September, three hours after the transfer window had closed.
Prior to that, the 25-year-old had driven back to Everton’s Finch Farm training complex for one final time in order to persuade Blues manager Roberto Martinez of his desire to leave.
That, coupled with Fellaini’s decision to forgo £4 million in bonus payments, finally triggered Everton chairman Bill Kenwright’s decision to sanction a transfer the former Standard Liege man thought would never happen. “With the chairman at Everton you never know,” he said. “Sometimes I thought there was no chance for me to join Manchester United.
“But I talked with the manager. It was a big opportunity for me to join one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“I know what my objectives are. I want to win trophies. That is why I play football. With Manchester United I have a big chance to win something.”
Moyes has been criticised for allowing a £23.5m clause in Fellaini’s contract to lapse on 31 July. The decision effectively cost a hefty sum, although United insist they did not actually pay any more than the initial sum.
Yet Moyes was motivated more by a desire to conclude a double deal which also involved Leighton Baines. It was only when the possibility of signing the England full-back disappeared that Moyes split the deal.
“We didn’t want to give up on Leighton,” said Moyes. “We felt the best way to do that was to try and keep the two deals together. Only at the last minute did we split them.”
After five years working with Fellaini, Moyes believes he has the kind of attributes needed in a midfield shorn of Paul Scholes following his retirement and Darren Fletcher due to his ongoing battle against illness.
“Marouane is very noticeable for many reasons,” said the Scot. “He can play several roles and I needed that. We have a busy schedule coming up. We want to be able to play different ways in different games.”
Moyes has overseen the development of a shy young player, who found it difficult to communicate, to the more confident presence he has spent so much to acquire.
“Marouane is now a mature player, who has got better as he has gone along,” said Moyes. “He has also scored a fair weight of goals in the Premier League, which is always important.
“He wouldn’t want to say it here but he was desperate to join Manchester United. He knew this was a big opportunity and he wasn’t ready to let it go.”
A small nod of the head in acknowledgement as he heard Moyes’ words confirmed the statement was true.
Now though, he has a new set of fans to impress, starting against Crystal Palace at lunchtime. “The fee is not my problem,” he said. “Whether it is £25m, £30m, £20m. Expensive or not. In football there is always a situation where some people don’t like you or your quality. I don’t care. I just want to play well for the team. I already know it is quicker than Everton. They are a great club but Manchester United are a big team.
“But I am happy. I like the intensity. Now I just want to play.”
Moyes, meanwhile, confirmed yesterday he needs to check on the risk of selecting Wayne Rooney before he sets a comeback date for the striker.
Rooney was forced to miss the Barclays Premier League trip to Liverpool at the end of last month and England’s World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine after suffering a nasty head gash in an accidental training ground collision with Phil Jones.
The 27-year-old posted pictures of the cut on-line to prove his absence was fully justified. And now Moyes must decide when to bring Rooney back.
“He is in great physical shape,” said Moyes. “Obviously he has a cut right in the middle of his forehead which could split because the skin is very thin.
“But he has had his stitches out and it has knitted. We just have to see where the level of risk is with his injury.”