For the last few months it has been expected that Marouane Fellaini would be leaving Manchester United as a free agent at the end of the season after failing to agree a new contract with the club he joined from Everton for £27.5m in the fateful summer of 2013.
Fellaini was reported to have rejected United’s offer in September, and even as recently as Sunday morning there was fresh tabloid speculation that he had turned down a new £140,000 per week deal.
Yet no more than a few hours after the Daily Star screamed from the rooftops that Fellaini has decided against taking the latest offer and really would be leaving Old Trafford, United boss Jose Mourinho revealed that an agreement is actually ‘almost there’.
That came just as Fellaini had proved his worth in the best and most fitting way possible, coming off the bench to score a stoppage time headed winner against Arsenal and hopefully put an injury ravaged season behind him.
There was heavily rumoured interest from Turkish clubs, perhaps most notably Besiktas, as well as even French champions Paris Saint-Germain. At one point, Liverpool were linked with the Belgian until common sense prevailed and reputable sources labelled the story nonsense.
Now, however, Fellaini looks like he’ll be sticking around after all. And that is surely beneficial for United as his cameo against the Gunners perfectly highlighted.
The 30-year-old may not be a regular starter, but he performs a vital role at the club and is still an important individual who is trusted and well liked by the manager – let’s not forget the time Mourinho described Fellaini as the natural replacement for Paul Pogba in the United line up.
Every successful team has a handful of squad players behind it, hard working individuals ready to fill in when necessary but always aware they will be back on the bench before long. Making invaluable, if infrequent, contributions to a winning team while the fleeting chance is there is arguably better than playing every game for an average or poor side.
United have had it before with players like Park Ji-sung, while Fabian Delph has started to become that player for Manchester City this season. And while earlier reports surrounding Fellaini rejecting an extension alluded to his next deal likely being the last ‘big contract’ of his career, perhaps that realisation is something which has contributed towards his decision to sign after all.
Having first shown his best in a United shirt under the management of Louis van Gaal during a run of games in the spring of 2015, his winner at the weekend was a typical ‘Fellaini’ goal. Moments earlier he had hit the post in similar fashion. If he doesn’t score the goals himself, he gives vital knockdowns for others, or even his very presence in the penalty area is enough to panic opposing defenders.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp decried Mourinho for using Fellaini ahead of Juan Mata during the game, but it worked and it has worked so many times. Even some of the most ardent Fellaini haters, those who loudly opposed his arrival, wrote him off before he’d kicked a ball for the club and once went as far as booing him during a game at Old Trafford, have come around.
Fellaini has scored five goals in just 22 appearances this season. The majority of those games have seen him come off the bench to make his impact. More importantly, there is no one else like him in the United squad and having that variety of options will be crucial next season as the club looks to topple Manchester City and return to the summit of English football.
Long term fitness may well be a nagging concern, but all things equal, Marouane Fellaini is absolutely worth his expected new contract at Old Trafford.