David Moyes, having succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, is ready to make his first significant signing at the Red Devils. The man being widely tipped to join the Scot at United is Marouane Fellaini. The Guardian and the Daily Mirror have both speculated that United are preparing a £24 million move for the highly regarded Belgian international.
There can be little doubt that Fellaini is one of the most feared players in the English Premier League. He is an aerial and physical threat to every opponent, possesses the best trademark Afro in football and is a hero to all at Goodison.
The question remains, though: Would Moyes be wise to bring Fellaini to Manchester United?
The new Manchester United manager will have access to the kind of transfer kitty that he could only dream about while in charge at Everton. In essence, he now has the capability to sign almost any player on the planet. Moyes also has the footballing and financial power to fend off any interest that may arise in any of his star players.
Despite the transfer pool open to the 50-year-old, newspaper speculation has linked him with going back to his former club to sign Fellaini.
There can be little doubt that, despite winning the 2012-13 Premier League in the easiest of fashions, United are far from ideal in midfield. Michael Carrick—United's best central midfielder, fresh from his best ever season in the Premier League—lacks mobility at the highest level. But he does bring superb discipline.
After Carrick, it becomes blatantly clear that the Red Devils are weak in the center of midfield. Paul Scholes has just retired for the second time, and Ryan Giggs, like Carrick, is ineffective against pace through the middle and also lacks the stamina to last an entire season. This is hardly surprising given that the United legend turns 40 in November.
Anderson has been nothing but a disappointment since he joined United in 2007, 23-year-old Tom Cleverley is still learning his trade and, despite some uneducated calls for the matter, Wayne Rooney is no central midfielder.
Thus, center midfield becomes the first problem area for David Moyes to address despite Sir Alex Ferguson's flaccid claims to Sky Sports News that he left the squad in the "strongest possible shape."
Given the player that Fellaini is, the skills he possesses and his previous relationship with Moyes, it is hardly surprising that this potential transfer is now being mooted.
Over the past couple of seasons, Fellaini has built something of a reputation for being a goalscoring midfielder. However, closer inspection of his statistical record shows that he has only scored double figures once in seven years as a professional footballer with Standard Liege and Everton.
He is, however, on closer inspection a far more complete midfielder than the current stereotypical view.
Physically, Fellaini is an absolute beast. At 6'4" he is an intimidating proposition at either end of the field. He backs this up with an aggressive playing style and is not afraid to throw himself into tackles. This can be seen in the Belgian's yellow-card haul. Since 2008 he has accumulated more yellow cards than goals, 35 from 138 games to be precise.
Passing-wise, his statistics reflects the style of football Moyes employed at Everton but will not be allowed to utilize at United. For the most part, under Moyes the Toffees were a direct team that liked to attack down the flanks.
Fellaini's playing style, passing style and percentage rate show this to be the case. Moyes was hamstrung in the goalscoring department, so last season saw the 25-year-old pushed further forward than in previous years.
This tactical switch reaped dividends for the Toffees as he weighed in with an impressive 11 goals. His goalscoring record also highlights the Toffees' deficiencies up front as Nikica Jelavic, Everton's main striker, only scored seven all season.
With Fellaini playing further forward, Everton's game began to rotate around the Belgian. He would drop into the space around the flanks and initiate attacks through both Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines. Then, as the play progressed, he would ghost into the penalty area, creating havoc. His statistical return of 11 goals and seven assists does not show his true worth, however.
Fellaini is one of the most difficult midfielders to play against because of his size.
You don’t normally come up against players like that in that position.
When he’s used in that forward position around the box it is much more difficult to play against him.
He creates a lot of problems, uses his size well and is a threat around the goal—you can see that from his goals.
For me, he is much more efficient playing there than when he is deeper.
When analyzed, Fellaini created over 40 goalscoring chances through his own creative touch and a further uncounted number through his sheer presence alone.
Many teams set out to double up and frustrate the Belgian last season. As a result, other players were allowed more time and room, and he often did not even have to touch the ball to have a hand in creating a goalscoring chance.
Despite his prowess as a No.10, Fellaini is uncomfortable in this position and sees himself more as a conventional midfielder. Speaking in The Guardian last week, the Belgian said:
I'm happy with my season, although I didn't play in my best position.
I'm not a No10. 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 6 or an 8. From there I can create danger and score goals.
It is here that Moyes will be thinking of playing Fellaini at United.
The Red Devils have no shortage of forward-thinking players on their books. They possess a number of players more than comfortable in the final third of the pitch. Robin van Persie has just come off one of his best ever seasons. Javier Hernandez continues to progress at a staggering rate. Danny Welbeck is fast becoming a forward version of a utility player and is close to excelling in every position.
Add in United's wide players: Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani, and there is enough firepower to obliterate most teams.
Leaving just Wayne Rooney, who has requested a transfer and who worked under Moyes before. The ex-Everton player's future remains unclear, but should Rooney stay there is little doubt that Moyes would play him as his No.10 and rotate him less than Ferguson. In that respect, Moyes may be the perfect choice to make Rooney see where his future truly lies.
As a conventional midfielder, Fellaini would give United the kind of leadership, goalscoring and physical threat they have not had since the halcyon days of Bryan Robson. Last season, despite scoring 86 goals over 38 games, United only scored 16 goals from midfield. This is an area that needs to be repaired immediately.
United also conceded 44 goals in 38 games. So it is also clear they need to stem this flow.
Carrick as the central midfielder with the primary role on defensive duties would provide a perfect platform for the Belgian to freewheel forward. Here he could give United some much-needed creativity from the center whilst providing a potent goal threat.
The Belgian would also make United's midfield a far more challenging proposition from the opposition's point of view. Defensively he is excellent and never shirks his duties. He would give United superior defensive powers both on the ground and aerially.
Where he would have to work, and Moyes would be sure to drum this home, is on his discipline. His 35 yellow cards picked up in 138 games may be acceptable at Everton, but neither fans, directors nor players will stand for such indiscipline where only the best of the best is accepted.
Moyes has already partly addressed the Belgian's fondness for cards. Fellaini told the Daily Mirror of an incident in December 2012, after he was sent off against Stoke. Moyes gave the entire Everton team a few days off over Christmas with the exception of Fellaini.
He then came in and personally gave the Belgian lone training sessions to push home the point of Fellaini's lack of discipline letting everyone down.
Under Ferguson, United played under the credo of "self sacrifice over self indulgence." Moyes operated under the same fundamental belief at Everton. And no one personified that belief more than Marouane Fellaini.
Signing Fellaini would not just be wise for Manchester United and David Moyes, it would be the most advisable, sage and perspicacious transfer he could make.
Should David Moyes sign Marouane Fellaini?
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Statistics from premierleague.com, whoscored.com, soccerbase.com
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