On Monday morning, David Moyes arrived at Manchester United’s Carrington training complex to start work, a whole 42 days ahead of schedule. In another line of work, Moyes would be commended for his professionalism, or, on the flip side, he might be encouraged to enjoy his time off by his flabbergasted employers. However, working for The Red Devils is a full-time job, and though Moyes is destined for a short holiday, there is little doubt that his mind will be concentrated firmly on the task at hand.
Amongst many objectives, one of the Scot’s top priorities is to undertake the club’s transfer proceedings, which are always under the intense microscopic eye of fans and journalists alike. With Sir Alex Ferguson having departed after 26 and a half years at the helm, it is up to his successor to continue the magisterial triumphs that United have been afforded over the past two decades. Though there are rumors swirling around that the swashbuckling Cristiano Ronaldo might be on his way back to romance The Theatre of Dreams, the reality of proceedings is a far cry from the champagne fantasies that many United fans like to entertain.
In truth, Moyes will have to aim a little lower than the likes of Ronaldo, Falcao and Gareth Bale. Such prospects may excite you to place your bets online on who United are most likely to sign, but they are surely out of the question, and though they would inevitably make a profound impact on a squad that is still lacking a touch more excellence, it is not United’s attack line that needs addressing. With Ferguson gone, perhaps United will now seek out a dexterous central midfielder to support Michael Carrick, who was more or less left to solely hold the fort last season. The Geordie-born midfielder duly undertook the task with aplomb, but if he had not been around so frequently his team-mates would have suffered a great deal.
With Paul Scholes retired, Darren Fletcher hampered by a chronic bowel condition, and the likes of Tom Cleverley and Anderson failing to step up a gear, the issue of midfield is now more pressing than ever. If the team is to continue its trophy-winning haul in the forthcoming years, the chasm in the middle must be filled. So, step forth Marouane Fellaini, the man Moyes brought to Goodison Park for a club record fee of £15 million.
Last weekend, the gangly Belgian dropped a barefaced hint that he would be interested in a move to the English champions when discussing the subject of a potential transfer with The Sunday Mirror:
“If I’m leaving Everton, I say, it will depend on lots of factors,” Fellaini told the paper.
“I only want to go to a club where the manager really wants me.
“In 2008, Everton did everything to convince me, especially David Moyes. He made me the player I am now.”
Fellaini also revealed that Moyes had told him he wanted him to become a deep-lying midfielder in the future, as opposed to the role of an attacker that he has assumed in the last few years.
“I’m not a number 10. David Moyes predicts my future as a defensive midfielder, but due to a lack of offensive power, he plays me up front.
“In the future I want to play as a six or an eight. From there, I can create danger and score goals.”
Although Fellaini halted at the point of implying that he had been harboring desires to leave Everton, stating his contentment at the club, the message was crystal clear. In previous interviews, the midfielder has confessed a desire to play Champions League football, the pinnacle of every professional footballer’s aspirations, and though Everton have made sterling efforts to attain European status, the riches of the teams above them have squashed these hopes again and again. For Fellaini, United would be a perfect fit, giving him the chance to compete for silverware whilst serving a manager who knows his game inside-out. But United and Everton are two polar opposites, and it is debatable as to whether Fellaini has the essential attributes to pull on the red jersey.
Having played in an advanced role last season, due to the dwindling form of Nikica Jelavic at the apex of Everton’s offensive unit, Fellaini has produced decent performances intermittently in the last ten months, his finest coming at the very beginning against Manchester United when he ran riot at Goodisan Park, scoring the only goal to cap off a cogent display of dictatorial robustness. Of course, he can be forgiven for a lack of consistency at times when playing for the greater good of the team, and his sacrifices are most admirable in an age where many players are prone to throwing their toys out of the pram if their egos are not pandered to.
Nevertheless, when Fellaini has been given free reign in the centre of the park, he functions as more of a hindrance than a dictator, a mountainous obstruction for the bigger teams as opposed to a conductor of affairs. It is his strength and size, combined with his warrior-like disposition, that make him an asset, but in the technical department he comes up short in comparison to his contemporaries Carrick, Yaya Toure, Mousa Dembele and Steven Gerrard. On the ball, he is capable and efficient, but often looks clumsy when traveling at speed, and though it can be argued that it is his composition that creates this illusion, there is evidence to suggest that he might not be up to scratch in a United team that likes to play rapid attacking football.
According to research on WhoScored.com, Fellaini averaged 1.3 key passes per game, a stat that bettered that of Michael Carrick’s (1), but came below Toure (1.4), Dembele (1.8) and Gerrard (2.6). Seeing as Fellaini worked higher up the pitch than his fellow compatriots, often in and around the penalty area, this figure is quite lackluster as forward players are responsible for the fluidity and accomplishment of offensive moves. Furthermore, Fellaini was dispossessed on an average of 2.4 times per game, compared with Carrick (0.8), Toure (1.2), Dembele (1.3), and Gerrard (0.8). When it came to passing, Fellaini had a success rate of 79.3 %, with Carrick (88.1), Toure (88.9), Dembele (90.9) and Gerrard (85.5) all bettering the Belgian by quite some distance.
Some will argue of course that statistics are a lousy way of determining a player’s ability, and are only one component of settling a debate. That may be true, for following matches instead of figures is far more important when it comes to judgement. Even so, one cannot ignore the calculations entirely, especially now when technology and research is having such an impact on the modern game, influencing the opinions of even the most seasoned managers. Fellaini’s results are not up to standard with the level he aspires to reach, and United could do better than him, especially if they want to keep up with the pace in Europe where footballing erudites in the mould of Schweinsteiger, Xavi, and Alonso effortlessly dictate the pace of matches with their rangy passing, deft touch, and guileful movement.
On the list of alleged targets United have been mulling over, perhaps Kevin Strootman of PSV Eindhoven would be a better bet. Having already captained the Dutch national team, Strootman would prove to be a valuable acquisition with an affordable price tag in the region of £12-15 million. Strootman is a box-to-box midfielder, equally comfortable on the ball as he is off it, and is never one to duck out of a challenge. In in the Eredivisie, he scored 6 goals and provided 10 assists, impressing many with his snappy passing, purposeful runs, and leadership qualities. On United fan forums, he is the favored choice, and some have compared his game to a little known bloke by the name of Roy Keane.
If Moyes is to sign a player from his old club, Leighton Baines will surely be the man heading to Manchester. With Patrice Evra not getting any younger, Baines would be the ideal replacement after a highly prosperous season marauding up and down the left flank, curling in delicious crosses that Robin Van Persie would thrive upon after a lack of service from the dreary Antonio Valencia, a frequently crocked Ashley Young, and, well…the less said about Nani the better.