Finding his feet at Old Trafford

Despite reported interest from Napoli, Marouane Fellaini has remained in Manchester, slowly carving out a role as a key figure in Louis van Gaal’s plans.

There was a time during the fledgling stages of Marouane Fellaini’s Manchester United career when his unmistakable appearance seemed to make him an easy target for the Red Devils fans’ ire.

A GBP27.5 million signing on deadline day in September 2013, the tall, big-haired Fellaini was the last-gasp buy by his old Everton boss David Moyes and he became the poster boy for a dreadful transfer window and the Scot's subsequent failings at Old Trafford.

The Belgian, whose role in the team arguably still remains difficult to define, appeared set for the exit door over the summer when Dutchman Louis van Gaal shook things up with a host of star-studded signings upon his arrival in the managerial hot-seat.

And yet, despite reported interest from Napoli at the time, Fellaini not only remained in Manchester, but slowly carved out a role as a key figure in van Gaal’s plans.

It began back in October when he came off the bench and inspired a comeback against West Brom as United rallied to earn a point, with Fellaini scoring his first goal of the season in the process.

Further goals came against Stoke and QPR, while he continued to play the role of super sub by coming to United’s aid in a come-from-behind FA Cup win over Preston in February.

It was after that performance when van Gaal, who had deployed him behind Wayne Rooney in attack, lavished praise on a man who has gone from something of a figure of ridicule to a key component at Old Trafford.

“I have used Fellaini a lot of times already — more than ever and he scores more than ever,” said van Gaal. “He is a player that, when we cannot beat the pressure with quality, can always beat the pressure. That is a quality. Now I have played him for the first time in his (preferred) position but we have a lot of players who can play there.”

Not everybody has been a fan of Fellaini’s renaissance, though. West Ham manager Sam Allardyce famously took aim at United when their approach of knocking long balls up to the big Belgian paid dividends in a 1-1 draw at Upton Park recently.

Van Gaal responded with a dossier which aimed to dispel Allardyce’s theory but the Dutchman did concede that Fellaini offers his side a different way of playing to the likes of Ander Herrera, Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, signings who have so far failed to fully live up to the billing.

“We need the guts to play football along the floor,” noted van Gaal. “With him (Fellaini), we have more power. With Adnan (Januzaj) and Di Maria, we have more creative players. The second ball you cannot always win with these players. But you have to win (the ball), otherwise I have to line up always (with) players like Fellaini.”

While Van Gaal may have to tailor United's tactics to suit their Marmite Belgian, there is no doubt that Fellaini’s influence at Old Trafford is, against the odds, growing.

There is certainly nowhere for Fellaini to fade into the background with that eye-catching afro and, right now, United are thankful he has taken the centre stage.

© PA Sport