There was a Manchester United match as the 2011/12 season drew towards its insane climax that will live long in the memories of the Old Trafford faithful. It is a memory we dislike with almost as much intensity as that season’s final, harrowing moments for it was the slow, creeping gas that weakened our title campaign to the point of paralysis and left it exposed to the ultimate, killer blow that was to follow on the final day.
Whereas Sergio Agüero’s last-gasp winner against QPR provided the final, fatal strike that left United fans choking on their own blood and bile, it was the 4-4 draw at home to Everton a few weeks before that made the team so vulnerable to such an attack and set the throes of death in motion.
That match was a desperately drawn out affair for the fans. The second half a form of torture, hope draining slowly from our hearts as we watched. Helpless. The previous eight months’ blood, sweat and tears evaporating before our eyes. We felt the colour draining from our collective face as a seemingly unassailable 4-2 lead crumbled about our feet. It was so alien to us. These things didn’t happen to Manchester United. Our players didn’t succumb to the pressure of being pursued.
Yet succumb we did and though we were well aware that we could still mathematically be crowned champions, there was an undeniable sense of foreboding in the air as we trudged out of the stadium and back up Sir Matt Busby Way. The self belief was, if not gone completely, then at least mortally wounded.
It was a deeply troubling, unfamiliar feeling. The claws of our rivals puncturing our backs, their hot breath upon our necks. All the self assurance we’d come to know and taken for granted over the previous two decades suddenly went up in smoke. In truth we knew then and there that it would take a miracle to recover from our capitulation that day.
There was one figure in particular that loomed large over the Old Trafford turf that afternoon. He transformed the Theatre of Dreams into a Colosseum of Nightmares for the watching hordes.
Marouane Fellaini, not for the first time or the last, brutalised United’s back four. He bossed our exposed midfield and defended his team’s goal with the valiance and determination of a great Homeric warrior who inspired his comrades by his own example, particularly throughout the second half.
He did it again in the opening match of the following season where he rendered Michael Carrick, deputising at centre back for the night, akin to a weedy teenager being pulverised by a gnarled and grizzled old pro.
It was understandable then, after two such towering performances (amongst many more against other teams), that stories of bigger clubs circling began to abound. Chelsea were sniffing around, scrapping with Arsenal over the Belgian’s signature with United, and many of their fans, also keen. After all, hadn’t we been crying out for just such a bullying, bruising enforcer since Roy Keane’s departure?
So why is it that Fellaini has struggled to find his feet at the club he tormented on these occasions? Why have United’s supporters struggled thus far to take him to their hearts? Why have some even begun to turn on him already, questioning his credentials to play for a club such as this?
Poor Fellaini started the season still plying his trade for Everton and was only parachuted into Old Trafford moments before the proverbial clock struck midnight, and his blacked-out Audi transformed into a pumpkin.
Perhaps it’s less to do with the player himself and more to do with the club’s childlike meddlings in the transfer market over the summer. After all, we all knew for months that David Moyes had put Fellaini near the top of his list of definite targets and that players need time to settle into a new club during pre-season; to meet their new team mates, familiarise themselves with their new surroundings and thus hit the ground running when the season kicks off. Poor Fellaini started the season still plying his trade for Everton and was only parachuted into Old Trafford moments before the proverbial clock struck midnight, and his blacked-out Audi transformed into a pumpkin.
Hardly ideal. It must be a dizzying experience at the best of times to make the transition from big fish in a small pond to minute plankton in a vast ocean, without the added stress of a high speed dash up the M62 in the dead of night with your dreams potentially in tatters at the end of it.
Then there’s Fellaini’s price tag. Or rather the price United ended up paying for him which was a cool £3.5m more than they needed to had they not so arrogantly scoffed at his initial buyout clause. It makes him one of the club’s most expensive acquisitions, a burden we’ve seen weigh heavily on the shoulders of many others over the years.
Perhaps some also feel that Fellaini, an obvious favourite of Moyes, is also the on-pitch embodiment of the new boss and they therefore direct any ire they feel towards the new manager onto the back of his most loyal henchman instead.
Or perhaps he just isn’t Cesc Fàbregas, Thiago Alcântara or Ander Herrera. Or Roy Keane or Paul Scholes, for that matter.
It seems rather harsh and premature to write Fellaini off after just a handful of games in a United shirt with all of the extenuating circumstances outlined above, none of which were his fault.
Who’s to say we won’t see, over time, the marauding, monstrous Marouane Fellaini that regularly, whilst wearing Everton blue, struck fear into the hearts of opposition fans? Ourselves included.