Sunday 24 September 2017

'I will show what I can do next season... but fans must give us time'

Marouane Fellaini knows he has a lot to prove to the Old Trafford faithful
Marouane Fellaini knows he has a lot to prove to the Old Trafford faithful

Mark Bailey

With a scratch of that famous shock of frizzy black hair, Marouane Fellaini begins to dissect his difficult first season at Manchester United and to explain why he is already looking beyond tomorrow's final game against Southampton to the start of the 2014-15 campaign.

Sitting awkwardly with his gangly legs – seemingly elongated by a pair of grey drainpipe Galliano jeans – tucked beneath a table in an office in Wilmslow near his home, the 6ft 4in Belgian begins to reveal for the first time the challenges, lessons and resolutions of his debut season at Old Trafford.

He starts to describe a very difficult year. First, he says, there was the debilitating impact of his early-season injury.

"I need to be fit to be good," he says, simply. "Even when I am injured I can play but the fitness is not the same."

Fellaini is referring to the wrist injury he sustained against Shakhtar Donetsk on October 2, in only his third start for United, which hampered his performances throughout the autumn and required surgery in December, keeping him sidelined until February.

"I was injured for three months and that was a difficult moment for me. When you arrive in a new team you want to play, you want to stay with the team and when you can't play it is difficult to see the team – even off the pitch.

"When this season finishes I will start with my preparation for the next year and it will be good."

Disarmingly shy, the Belgian converses in a barely audible whisper at odds with his belligerent on-field persona. But he delivers a declaration - part promise, part warning – with a flinty stare: "I will look to show what I can do next season."

Fitness has always been an important part of Fellaini's life. A talented 10,000m runner in his youth, he would run to school in Brussels, with his father Abdellatif trailing behind on a bike, while other kids took the bus.

For a battering ram of a player whose most destructive performances have involved roaming runs and intimidating physicality, a loss of fitness equated to a loss of confidence and form.

Arriving at Old Trafford in a £27.5m deal on transfer deadline day last September meant he missed pre-season training at Carrington.

"It was difficult because for two months I did the preparation with Everton and I didn't know if I would go or not. But in the end I wanted my transfer and I signed for Manchester United. It was a lot of stress but good in the end."

Moving from Everton to United was a culture shock with everything from the scale of the club to the intensity of training leaving Fellaini in awe.

"When I joined Manchester United I thought, 'Wow, this is different'. It was very good at Everton. But this is different. Different atmosphere. Different club. Everything is different. It is good to see that. This is a very big team – the biggest team in the world.

"I feel I know the players now. I know the club. It has been a good experience to be training with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie."

The 26-year-old admits he has found it a lonely season but that he has drawn strength from his family. His father, his mother Hafida and his brothers Hamza and Mansour visit him often.

"I have good support from my brothers and my family. It is difficult to live alone."

He has also received advice from Patrice Evra, who struggled during his first season at Old Trafford in 2006 before proving his worth.

"I speak a lot with Patrice because we speak French. He explained a lot about the club, how the team plays, and how they have to win trophies.

"All the players are good people, too. They want the team to win so they help the (other) players."

Perhaps in previous seasons the new arrival would have been afforded the time to settle into a more stable and successful United squad, but Fellaini has been placed under the microscope by joining the Red Devils during their most calamitous season for two decades.

Furthermore, United's unsuccessful pursuit of Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara meant that Fellaini was not just the club's only signing of an ill-fated summer transfer window but also the first genuine central midfielder to be signed by United for six years, since Anderson and Owen Hargreaves in 2007.

Given that Fellaini arrived on the back of a stellar season for Everton, in which he scored 11 goals in 31 league games, and had a recent history of tormenting United, expectations were high for a player in the central midfield role which has been such a problem area for United in recent years.

Frustration on the terraces stems less from the worry that Fellaini does not have the attributes to be of value at Old Trafford, more from the fact he has yet to show his known qualities in a Manchester United shirt.

However, Fellaini insists that he is inspired, not intimidated, by the demands of the club. He knows there is only one way to be remembered at Old Trafford.

"For people to not forget me we have to win a trophy," he says.

"I knew about Man United as a kid because I watched them on TV and I read football magazines. I remember watching the game against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in 1999, so I knew all about the club.

"Roy Keane was an inspiring figure. Manchester United had a lot of great players and that is why they have won so many trophies."

He likes seeing Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson walking around Old Trafford. "It shows you that Manchester United is a club for life."

Fellaini says he was sad to see David Moyes leave.

"I learnt a lot from him and for that I am very grateful. It was a shame things didn't work out for him at Manchester United but David is still a great manager and I'm sure he will be back in football very soon.

"Whoever becomes the next manager, they will bring fresh philosophies to help the players achieve what the fans want."

Critics say the loss of the former Everton manager could be a blow to Fellaini's status but the tactically astute Louis van Gaal could prove to be more capable of blending Fellaini's attributes with those of other United players.

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots had recently questioned Moyes' use of Fellaini.

"I don't understand why Manchester United bought him to play him in a system of two No 6s. Marouane is a box-to-box player."

Fellaini says only: "I always play for the team so when the manager says 'play there' I will play there. I am like this, you know. I don't think about myself."

The World Cup could be a welcome change of scenery for Fellaini.

"I will never forget watching Zidane at the 1998 World Cup – it always brings good memories," he says.

"We (Belgium) have never played a big tournament together with this generation of players but we are motivated and that is the most important thing. Brazil and Spain are the strongest teams."

He has received a public show of faith from Wilmots. "I have no doubts about Marouane," said the coach. "The World Cup is a good chance for him to take revenge."

Manchester United can at least be glad that the fixtures computer has banished them to Southampton for their final game, 200 miles from the expected title party of their neighbours at the Etihad Stadium.

But Fellaini is determined to help United return to the trophy hunt next May.

"The supporters and the people have to give us time," he says. "I know we can win in one game against any team.

"But when you play for Man United you need to win every game.

"I have never won a trophy in England. I will work hard, the club will work hard, and the new staff will work hard to win trophies.

"As players we must take responsibility for our performances and it is up to us to help the new manager turn United back into a team capable of winning the title." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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