25 Sep 2020 5:22 PM +00:00

Why Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini is so vital for Belgium

REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Takashi Inui couldn't help himself. Standing in front of the Japanese supporters, the Eibar man broke into raucous sobs. 

The Samurai had given everything yet still they had fallen on their swords, overcome by a Belgian bulge to lose a scintillating match 3-2.

To compound their misery, two of the three Belgian goals came from Roberto Martinez's two subs: recently-relegated Nacer Chadli and everyone's favourite lumbering midfielder Marouane Fellaini.

Belgium, that golden generation of talent, continue to rely on players who are almost universally considered poster boys for everything that is considered substandard about elite football.

A simple game 

Football, as one man used to say, is a simple game complicated by idiots. 


There's nothing scientific about Marouane Fellaini. There are no hot takes to be had, no Moneyball insights. The Belgian is big, strong, powerful and effective. On a clear night in Rostov, he showed that sometimes that's all you need. 

Jan Vertonghen's looping header had given Belgium a shout. Japan had raced into a two-goal lead with goals from Inui and Genki Haraguchi prompting hopes of another World Cup upset.

REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Akira Nishino's side were beginning to wilt under Flemish pressure, however. With 66 minutes gone, Roberto Martinez made the same move that David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have done so many times over the years. 

Fellaini bombed on to the pitch. Eight minutes later, he'd scored, dominating the South Korean backline to power beyond Eiji Kawashima.

This is the reason why  Mourinho extended his contract until 2020. This is the reason why, whilst he may not always start, he is always the first name off the bench. On form, the Belgian's strength and movement make him a devastating goal threat.

Afro-covered projectiles

In the attritional world of knockout football, Fellaini becomes even more of a weapon. When Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard's arrows fail, it's time to roll out the trebuchet. It's time to throw afro-covered projectiles at the opposition backline. Invariably, it works. 

Brazil are yet to face a man of Fellaini's considerable talents. Roberto Martinez could easily deploy him opposite the diminutive right-full back Fagner, whose 5 feet and 6 inches make him fodder for the United midfielder. 


REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Alternatively, the Spaniard could drop the ineffectual Dries Mertens, pushing Fellaini up further in defiance of Thiago Silva and Joao Miranda. It might not win any admirers but a front line containing him and Romelu Lukaku will win duels. 

Fellaini, it should be noted, is also useful from a defensive standpoint. His height makes him an obvious bastion from set pieces, but his work rate is impressive in the middle of the park too. With Philippe Coutinho in the form of his life, Martinez may find solace in deploying Fellaini alongside Axel Witsel in a deeper position. 

Football fancies itself as a game of science. But even science is underpinned by physics and Fellaini is the most physical player of all. In a team laden with gold, this leaden lump may prove to be the real treasure. 

Do you think Fellaini will be important for Belgium? Let us know by commenting below.

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