It's safe to say, when Marouane Fellaini finally leaves Manchester United, he won't go down as a club legend. He'll go down in meme lore, and he'll go down as a guy who Worked Very Hard, but he will not go down as a club legend. His 100th appearance for the storied Red Devils was on Sunday, and it perfectly encapsulated his time at Old Trafford.
Fellaini was put on in the dying embers of the match, with the express purpose of dealing with Everton's lofted balls into the box as they pushed for an equalizer. Instead, it was on the ground that he doomed them, clattering into Idrissa Gueye on the edge of the area just two minutes after stepping on the field, and giving Everton a late penalty.
United's official account tweeted their congratulations to Fellaini mere seconds before he gave away the foul that let Everton back in the game. It was perfect. Pretty much his whole career at United has been a case of bad timing, and this was the peak of it.
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Fellaini played for David Moyes at Everton before he embarked on his doomed mission to conquer the red half of Manchester, and initially, his old boss didn't want to bring him in his suitcase when he took the job at Old Trafford. United chased center-midfielder after center-midfielder futilely, until, finally, with no other options, they signed Fellaini in a deadline day deal. To cap it off? They had to pay £4 million more than his original sticker price due to a clause that expired on July 31st. It was Ed Woodward and the United management's tenure in a nutshell.
Fellaini has always been a player of effort and physicality, but he wasn't the refined, technical midfield conductor United needed. He's looked out of place most of his 100 matches in a United shirt, but he has done well on occasion in his preferred role as a box-to-box midfielder, without the responsibilities of dictating the pace of the game, or simply sitting deep in front of the backline. It wasn't surprising that he'd be the one to give away the penalty against Gueye though, because to put Fellaini in a situation where he might foolishly foul someone is to invite destruction.
Even former Everton teammate Leon Osman said he wasn't surprised about the penalty. “He was always like that for us,” laughed Osman. “He was like that in training, if you came up against him he was likely to stand on your toes or give you a dead leg.
“When he played for us you wanted him as far away from our box as possible, get him up causing havoc in around the opposition penalty area where he was really good.”
In his defense, Jose Mourinho's reasons for using Fellaini were logical, at least on paper. He flamed Everton's style of play in the post-match presser, saying: “Everton is not the passing team anymore, like they were, Everton is a team that plays direct, everything is direct. Goalkeeper: direct. Ashley Williams: direct. Funes Mori: direct. Everything is direct.”
“And when a team is losing and plays direct, intensifies the direct football, and when you have a player on the bench with two meters you play the player in front of the defensive line to help the team to the match.”
As has been the case so many times in his United career, Fellaini was set up to fail, and he duly obliged. Fellaini's physical presence is indeed useful. But as dangerous as he can be on the attacking side of the ball, getting on the end of crosses and terrorizing from set pieces, he can be just as detrimental on the defensive side with his clumsiness and over-exuberance. The penalty was the unfortunate illustration of it, as he needlessly scythed down Gueye.
It's hard to be angry at Fellaini though. He's been the same player for years, and we know what to expect. For 100 games he's been deployed in ill-fitting roles in a team he's not good enough to be in, and it's not surprising that it hasn't worked out. His nightmarish two minutes was just the latest illustration of his awful time in Manchester, and it's tough to see how he'll be able to turn it around in a United shirt.