You could look back at any number of moments over the course of the last five years and suggest that they epitomise Manchester United’s mismanagement since the heyday of Sir Alex Ferguson. The Champions League collapse in Munich in 2014, seeing a Manchester City side romp to the Premier League title whilst United finished the season 19 points behind, or maybe the selection of a back four featuring Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and two converted wingers line up in a cup final. None of these sit all that comfortably.
You can add another moment to the list; the recent indignity of Maroaune Fellaini seemingly holding the club to ransom on a new contract represented a somewhat hilarious low in a mixed period for the club. Fellaini, the player with a honey trap of a chest but the turning circle of an oil tanker, and often with the touch of one to boot. The man whose first goal for the club was a sumptuous rising strike against West Bromwich Albion but who might be best remembered for running the ball from the centre of his own half into touch under minimal pressure in a Champions League quarter final.
It’s puzzling that a player purchased on 2013’s transfer deadline day by David Moyes with such a limited skillset holds this strong a bargaining position for a new deal at United, and that he’ll likely leave the club not because he’s been sold, but because he simply feels that they left it too late to retain his services.
How far we done fell.
“The entire staff is doing everything they can to make me stay,’ said the man himself after heading in a stoppage time winner against Arsenal a few weeks ago. “Now I am in a strong position, especially since (Jose) Mourinho has stated that he wants to keep me. Last year I went to the coach and I said that I wanted a new contract. I then had a second meeting, but I will not ask it 10 times.”
To be fair to the Belgian, he is more than welcome to negotiate in whatever way he feels fit. If he thinks that United have disrespected him by not offering him a new deal sooner, and given that his chances of becoming a regular starter at Old Trafford are slim-to-none, then he’s well within his rights to go about his business as he pleases.
But it’s a sign of the divergence of perspective between the club’s fans and Mourinho that the former view Fellaini’s potential exit as symbolic, a potential turning point and hopefully a chance to improve the squad’s quality. The latter, however, appears quite gutted that he’ll have one less target man to hoof the ball up to if things go pear-shaped.
Whichever club ends up securing his services (barring a last-minute change-of-heart), be that AC Milan or the infinitely more comical potential option of Arsenal, they’ll get a committed and strong player who excels at unsettling defences. Several of the 20 goals that Fellaini’s notched in the last half-decade have been crucial, including an important header against Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-finals just over a year ago, and there’s no denying that the big man has his uses on occasion. Mourinho clearly adores him for his effort and willingness to carry out his instructions, so it’s no wonder that former Chelsea boss wishes to retain his services.
Yet it’s important for the player to leave the club this summer, if that’s what eventually transpires after the World Cup. Should United wish to reach the heights of old, then their strategies and backup plans cannot revolve around throwing on an immobile target man; his inclusion as a last resort when United need a goal doesn’t work frequently enough given how often it’s used, and his selection against Sevilla in that ill-fated Champions League 2nd leg several months ago proved more forcefully than ever that he remains horrifically ill-suited to any kind of deeper role in midfield.
At the risk of being overly critical, it’s worth noting out that the jeers he received from sections of the Old Trafford crow in late 2016 were needlessly reductive, and unhelpful. He was brought to the club by a man who was hilariously unfit for the job of manager, and his talents and effort were enough to convince Louis van Gaal and Mourinho to keep him around. But Fellaini needs to leave, not because of any perceived lack of commitment to this team’s cause, but because United simply must have better options than a tall, physical Belgian with a penchant for flinging his arms into people’s faces.