Hesitant is probably the most apt word to use to describe Everton’s season so far. Off the field, fan protests over Bill Kenwright’s ability to run the club, selling off key first-team players to balance the books suggest an bleak future for the consistently steady Premier League side, unless a new investor can be found for the Merseyside club. Stormclouds certainly linger over Goodison Park and they don’t appear to be fading any time soon.
On the pitch, Everton’s knack of playing with their backs against the wall and David Moyes’ innate skill in harnessing the best from slim pickings mean their start to the campaign has been much stronger than recent attempts where they’ve often flirted with the relegation zone by mid-October. Sure, they’ve not been setting the world alight but by recent records and the aforementioned dismally bleak financial picture, it is quite respectable.
But, questions must be asked about the futures of the talented players still plying their trade at the club – most notably Marouane Fellaini.
The midfielder from Etterbeek certainly divides opinion amongst Premier League fans. Some see the 6 ft 5′ behemoth as a remarkably agile presence in the heart of midfield, providing near perfect knockdowns and stringing the play together in Moyes’ 4-5-1 (of sorts) system. Yet others will always think of him as merely a dirty, antagonising nuisance to the opposition, complete with jagged stabbing elbows that ultimately result in him being a liability.
Obviously, I fall into the former description with Fellaini, although there are hints of both within my view. He’s the focal point in Everton’s system, linking up the defensive and offensive departments and almost always providing that near perfect header for Tim Cahill. For such a gangly fellow, his passing ability is unbelievably decent too and for my money stands way above the rest of Everton’s midfield options.
Plus he’s exactly the sort of person that should ruffle some feathers. Case in point (up until this season), he was usually the thorn in Manchester City’s side when Everton would defeat their rich North West counterparts. If given too much time and space (like Gareth Barry decided to do every single game against Everton), Fellaini is the metronome that makes Everton tick and unplayable. His form around the turn of 2010 even made Moyes claim that the Belgian was ‘good as anyone in the league’.
Lots of questions were asked of the Scottish manager’s decision to bring Marouane Fellaini to Goodison for an estimated £15 million from Standard Liège in the summer of 2008, especially given the financial climate within the club now. It was a record fee for a Belgian player and a club record for Everton, an unbelievable risk on an reasonably untested prodigy yet with hindsight it’s one of Moyes most sensible buys. The unknown factor when he stepped into the greatest league the world has ever known or will ever know (copyright Sky) often threw up tactical dilemmas for opposing managers. At Standard (and still for Belgium), Fellaini played more as a box-to-box midfielder, often the supporting act to the striker and in his first season at Everton, he scored 8 goals in 32 league game. He quickly became a fan favourite and provided a small economic boom for Liverpool market traders who sold afro wigs. Nearly every fan donned a Fellaini wig for the FA Cup Final in 2009, unfortunately a losing effort against Chelsea. Still his first season saw him claim the club’s Young Player of the Year award.
The Defensive Shift
Since those marauding days, Moyes has realised the worth of moving him deeper as chronicled excellently by Zonal Marking. Occasionally, with Everton’s chronic striker shortage, Fellaini is asked to provide support up front in desperate situations – a gamble every time given his poor conversion rate (0.1 goals/shots ratio), especially with headers given his huge demonstrative frame. He’s also instilled a greater sense of temperament in the Belgian – in his first season (08/09), he picked up 12 bookings whereas he appears to have mellowed in the last two seasons, only picking up 9 yellows in 47 games in those combined seasons.
You may have noticed the greatly reduced number of games there and it’s fair to say Fellaini has had his injury woes at Everton. His ankle troubles over the past few years have caused the club major problems with reshuffling the pack and also dealing with his agent – his father Abdellatif no less. After aggravating his ankle back March against Sunderland, Fellaini missed the rest of the season and his dad wasn’t best pleased saying that he was rushed back. Moyes fought back claiming Marouane was willing to play. Certain sections may well think that his father could have been angling for a big summer move for his son and this obviously didn’t happen.
Since returning to fitness for this season, Fellaini’s worth has become that more valuable. With Arteta leaving for Arsenal and Beckford being sold to generate funds, the greater emphasis for creativity has to be collectively shared, thus putting more pressure on Fellaini. This can be shown via two chalkboards – one successful performance against Wigan and one less so in the Manchester City game.
Perhaps Mancini finally got wise to Fellaini’s ability to control that fixture, but given the amount of passing which isn’t central, it suggests that Fellaini had to move wide to help his team. This is probably down to City’s midfield trio and the bookings given to Rodwell and Neville that made Everton unable to press forward. At home against arguably weaker opposition, Fellaini is much more mobile and can make a huge imprint in the game. Both games clearly demonstrate his importance with passing though.
Similarly in the Merseyside derby, where Everton unjustly lost Rodwell, Fellaini’s passing was mostly sideways as Everton had to play hold out for something. Any pass around the box was ultimately lost. Whilst Fellaini isn’t wasteful by any means, these stats can show the struggle for creativity but it was more apparent in Fellaini’s body language to me. He constantly look frustrated with Everton’s lack of drive against the bigger teams and this brings about the big question.
With bigger clubs reportedly interested in the Belgian linchpin and his contract with 18 months to run, the Belgian could well be sold to make funds. Everton clearly want to retain the services of the player, but being unable to meet his wage demands and Fellaini perhaps wanting to move to a club clearing gunning for trophies, the situation is reminiscent of Steven Pienaar’s departure, although with much more time for manoeuvring.
Fellaini is probably behind Leighton Baines, Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka in the supposed untouchables, who shouldn’t be sold and arguably could attract the biggest fee if reported figures are to be believed. Moyes would ideally want clarification on the player’s position before the next transfer window to let the club know where the lands lie. Selling Fellaini in January could be an astute move in garnering revenue, seeing as transfer fees appear to be inflated in that month, as teams rush around for the hottest commodities in the small timeframe.
If Everton decide to sell him in the summer, his fee could be less but allow time to find a replacement should they want to reinvest and not place further pressure on Jack Rodwell or the waferthin squad. Letting him for for free is not an option. The money obtained could also buy a striker too, an urgent need for the club.
But where would Fellaini move to? In my view, he wouldn’t get into the top Premier League teams (either Manchester club or Chelsea). The obvious move appears to be Arsenal – exactly the right sort of player Wenger needs yet would he splash the cash for him? Probably not. Spurs don’t need another midfielder (that won’t stop them though) so moving abroad seems the most logical option. Jose Mourinho appears to be an admirer from paper talk but nothing is concrete.
It all leaves Fellaini and Everton in limbo for the time being - one thing is clear, Everton will lose a vitally important presence should he choose to move on.
How highly do you rate Fellaini? Should Fellaini commit his future to Everton or move on? If so, where to? So many questions, answers and comment below.
Tagged Belgium, Bill Kenwright, Chelsea, David Moyes, Everton, georges leekens, Goodison Park, Jack Rodwell, Leighton Baines, Manchester City, Manchester United, Marouane Fellaini, Mikel Arteta, Premier League, Real Madrid, Standard Liège, Tim Cahill, Zonal Marking