Monday 22 January 2018

Fellaini: 'Criticism makes me work harder'

Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United
Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United

Matt Law

Jose Mourinho did not need to prove to Marouane Fellaini that he could still be the 'Special One' at Manchester United - he had him at "hello".

The appointment of Mourinho as United manager last summer, following his sacking by Chelsea, raised obvious question marks over whether the Portuguese still had his golden touch.

United entertain Watford today on the back of a 15-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, but the doubters were out in force after the 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in September that followed losses against Manchester City and Feyenoord in the Europa League.

Fellaini, who has had to overcome his own sceptics at Old Trafford, insists he never doubted the fact United would recover and has revealed that he was ready to give "everything" for Mourinho after his first conversation on the phone with the new manager last summer.

"Jose called me and texted me on my holiday to give me confidence and say he trusts me," said the Belgian.

"When a manager calls you and says you are part of his plans and that he trusts you, then you will give everything for him."

And, for Fellaini, it was as simple as that.

Mourinho has been good to his word and the former Everton player has kept his to such an extent that last month he earned a one-year extension to his United deal.

Motivate

"Jose is a manager who... to win is the most important thing. Sometimes we don't play well, but we win the game and he knows how to motivate the players," said Fellaini.

"All the players are behind him - that's the most important thing. When all the players are behind the manager, they give everything for him. He knows how to talk to the players.

"If you want to win things, all the staff have to be together, a family. We try to do that and, with time, it will be more intense than now. It's not been one year yet. It's shown that we are strong."

As with every family, there are arguments and falling-outs and the United squad got a taste of Mourinho's temper after the Watford defeat that they will try to avenge today.

"Of course, the manager was angry," said Fellaini. "We had the meetings, he showed us the mistakes and what we did wrong. It's normal.

"Since the beginning of the season, we did a lot of meetings like that. It shows his character and how he wants the team to play.

"Now the manager has worked with the team since July, so he knows us better. As well, the players know each other and the understanding is better."

Fellaini's belief in Mourinho's summer promise could easily have wavered after United spent a world-record £89m on Paul Pogba. But the 29-year-old midfielder has made himself a key member of the squad and is often the man relied on to close out games.

"When you sign a player like Pogba for that money, everyone knows he will play," said Fellaini. "He has the quality to play and do well, so we have a lot of competition.

"In the beginning, I played with him. Then the manager found another solution, but I still play. I'm in a big club, a big team, with big players, so that's football."

One of those big players is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who demands as much from his team-mates as he does from himself.

"He is always there to train, shouting, he wants to win," said Fellaini. "We play 10 against 10 and he's there shouting. He wants to win the game and he will do everything to win the game, even in training.

"There are big characters at the club, but they are good guys and that is most important. They know when they have to talk after the game, before the game, when they have to give confidence. Big characters, but very good guys."

The burning desire to win that runs through United dictates that the seven draws during this unbeaten run have felt like defeats and this season's goal of qualifying for the Champions League is, ultimately, not enough.

"Since many months, we didn't lose in the Premier League," said Fellaini. "But we draw and when we do that we lose two points. It's like a defeat.

"A club like Manchester United, we have to play Champions League so the minimum is to be top four.

"At the beginning of the season, we wanted to be champions. That's normal at this club. But we lost points, we drew a lot.

"Games like Stoke and Hull and Burnley at home, we should win but we didn't. Six points is a lot to drop in the Premier League.

"It's going to be difficult to be champions this season. But next season, we will do everything to be champions again. To fight again to be the biggest team. Four years is too long."

Trophies

Despite the fact that United are sixth, two points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and 14 behind leaders Chelsea, Mourinho's side could still finish his first season in charge with three trophies.

They face Southampton in the final of the League Cup at the end of the month and are still in the FA Cup and the Europa League.

Asked if he believed United could win all three, Fellaini said: "All the players want that. We have the squad to compete for all of the trophies."

Just as Mourinho has had to negotiate some bumps in the road at United, it has not always been a smooth path for Fellaini this season.

He conceded a late penalty against his former club, Everton, in December that cost United a victory after being sent on as an 85th-minute substitute, but Fellaini has proved many times in his career that he is far too resilient to let one setback get the better of him.

"OK, I made a mistake," he said. "I'm the first to know that I did. It was a mistake. That's it, done, next game. There was a problem with the fans booing me after the Everton game, but after that it was done.

"I know what I'm doing. When I make a mistake I know it, when I do well I know it, when I do bad I know it. I am honest and I don't need people to tell me.

"I had a lot of things in my life and my career, so I don't need to keep thinking about a mistake. It's part of football.

"There are always critics, but people who talk give me more motivation to do better, to work harder in training, to show myself in the game for the team, the manager, the club."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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