I love Fellaini
He is the love of my life
I love Fellaini
I’d let him shag my wife
I love Fellaini
I want curly hair too
It’s fair to say that Marouane Fellaini is held in high regard by Everton fans. So understandable was their delight when it was announced on Thursday that the Belgian has signed a new contract with the club, a deal that sees him tied to the Toffees until the summer of 2016. As a man who will turn 24 next week, it’s a contract that covers the prime years of his career, and to some it might seem strange that a man rated almost as highly outside the club and its fanbase as he is inside it would make such a commitment to such a troubled club.
It is also perhaps something of a surprise that a man so used to moving clubs looks set to stay long term in one place. From the beginning of his youth career, when he joined Anderlecht at just seven years of age, Fellaini has moved around, taking in Mons, Royal Francs Borains and Charleroi before eventually settling at Standard Liège, where aged 17 he signed his first professional deal.
At Standard, Fellaini carved out a role for himself as a box-to-box midfielder, his all round game of defensive strength, excellent work rate and good ability on the ball meaning he was perfectly suited to the role. In his two years in the first team at Standard he amassed 60 league appearances, scoring nine goals, but it perhaps his performance in a Champions League qualifier through brought him into the consciousness of English fans.
Against Liverpool in August 2008, Fellaini and his Standard team mates made Rafa Benítez’s side – who would that season go on to make their most convincing challenge for the title – sweat for their victory and place in the group stage; a late Dirk Kuyt goal at Anfield sealing victory. Fellaini stood out for the Belgians though, alongside Steven Defour in midfield, so when, just over a week later, he completed a £15M move to Everton, there was a feeling that despite the fee, David Moyes had pulled off a good signing.
The fee was always going to be questioned. Even back in 2008 Everton’s financial difficulties were well discussed, so splashing out on what was by a significant distance the club’s record signing, Moyes had put instant pressure on the young Belgian. Even more widely known that their money worries was Everton’s lack of striking options – a problem they still have yet to solve – and Fellaini often found himself in his first season at the club pushed forward to play as a second striker behind Tim Cahill. It worked to an extent as he and Cahill grabbed eighteen goals between them in all competitions, but it was the move to a holding midfield role that was to be the making of Fellaini.
Although Fellaini had won the club’s Young Player of the Season award in his first year, the arrival of Brazilian striker Jô meant that the former Standard player could be dropped deeper in Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 system. The move enabled him to further show off his skill on the ball as well as his destructive qualities in defence. With a game of simple and accurate distribution he became the metronome of Everton’s midfield, the man who made everything tick and yet more fans were won over to the Fellaini cult.
Unfortunately his 2009-10 campaign ended early when, in a Merseyside derby in February 2010, Fellaini and Liverpool’s Sotirios Kyrgiakos launched into a two-footed tackle on each other, the Greek defender receiving a red card while Fellaini was stretchered from the field with an ankle injury which would keep him out of the rest of the season. His 2010-11 campaign progressed in similar fashion, though his performance level was perhaps even higher, with Moyes at one point claiming that Fellaini was as good as anyone else in the league. Yet again his season ended in February, however, with an ankle injury picked up against Chelsea eventually requiring surgery.
With another strong showing in the 2010-11 season, rumours grew that Fellaini would swap Everton for pastures new. When he joined Everton there had been chatter about him joining perceived bigger clubs, and that began again as the Toffees’ financial worries showed now signs of abating. But that speculation was ended, for now at least, with the news that he has put pen to paper on a new deal.
There remains a major question over the deal, however. Why? Fellaini’s star has rarely been higher, even those who consider him a dirty player by and large recognise the talent that lies beneath the cult hair-do. Everton’s stock though, is sinking. With the club’s money worries often filling column inches and the team sitting 17th in the Premier League table, having won only three of their ten games so far this season, they look in real trouble. Moyes has rescued them from such situations before, and likely will again, but it remains a seemingly odd choice for someone who one expects would have no difficulty in winning a move up the footballing ladder to tie his future down to a struggling club.
It seems then that either Fellaini knows something the rest of us don’t about the financial future of the club – there have certainly been increased whispers about a potential takeover, but it is nothing that Everton fans haven’t heard before – or the club are taking steps to protect a valuable asset. Fellaini’s initial deal, signed back in 2008, was due to run out in the summer of 2013, meaning that come the end of the current season, it would have had just one year left to run. As has been seen in recent years, valuation of such players tends to plummet at that stage – unless the buying club is Manchester City – and for all Chief Executive Robert Elstone’s talk of the “long term”, it may have been a desire to simply protect market value that was the driving force behind the deal.
If that is so then Everton have made a very smart move. A club that have existed on a sell-to-buy policy for many years now, the increased value of Fellaini with the ink on his contract still wet would arm Moyes with at least some leeway to once again rebuild his squad and drag Everton back towards where they belong.
As well as being a regular contributor to The Football Project, Simon is editor of world football blog Lovely Left Foot.
(Photo credit: FIFA TV UnO via Flickr)