Farewell, Marouane Fellaini? Fresh start in China for man who summed up Manchester United’s post-Ferguson identity crisis

  • Midfielder expected to sign for Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng
  • Belgian has had tumultuous time under three managers at Old Trafford since joining in 2013
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2019, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2019, 10:28pm

Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini is expected to become the latest big name footballer to leave for China and sign for Shandong Luneng, according to reports.

There’s plenty of reason for the cynic to doubt them, not least the merry dance we were led on by Marko Arnautovic in recent weeks.

West Ham United’s Austrian forward was apparently ready to move to the Chinese Super League to “win trophies” before he signed a new contract with the Londoners, one that extended his existing deal by a day while upping his wage.

But Fellaini has long been linked with a move to China and is believed to have agreed personal terms. As far back as 2016 he was being offered to clubs in the CSL and China League One, and a year later he admitted he was open to the idea.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid return to the top in China at expense of Leo Messi and Manchester United

Speaking to Belgian broadcaster VTM News in June 2017, Fellaini said: “In China? Why not? I’m now a Manchester United player, but I do not rule out such a transfer in the future.”

Several transfer windows and more rumours later, it seems the future might be now – and China offers Fellaini a chance at a fresh start, just as it does Manchester United.

The club has struggled since Alex Ferguson left them as champions of England in May 2013.

After a summer of being linked to some of the best footballers in Europe, new boss David Moyes’ sole signing on deadline day was the burly Belgian from former club Everton for £29.8 million (US$39.1 million).

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer welcomes Alex Ferguson back into Manchester United family made by Matt Busby

Having paid over the odds for a player who previously had a minimum release clause, Fellaini embodied the post-Ferguson era before he had even kicked a ball.

When he did kick a ball, it didn’t go much better.

There was one notable moment in the Uefa Champions League against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford when Fellaini passed the ball straight out of play. His detractors could list more over his five and a half years.

He was once booed under Jose Mourinho as he prepared to come on as an added-time substitute, just as he was once cheered when Louis van Gaal brought him off.

Chinese fans blame Manchester United for their loss to Son Heung-min’s South Korea at the AFC Asian Cup

Fellaini was an easy target – there is nowhere to hide at 1.94 metres – but he survived under three managers at Old Trafford, in the club’s most turbulent period since Matt Busby retired, having earned praise from each of them.

The view from many United fans was that Fellaini was always game despite his limitations, but in the years since he joined a team who had won the league the previous season, the football had sunk to his level.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to bring back ‘the real Manchester United’ says Jordi Cruyff

They also point out he was often one of the most consistent performers in a Manchester United shirt.

Fellaini has been a victim of his own versatility in his time at Old Trafford – he has played every position in midfield, including wide on the left in a loss at home to West Brom, while also being lumped up front as United chased games.

There have been highlights among his 177 games and 22 goals – he was a menace as the side won the Europa League in 2017, and scored in an FA Cup semi-final on their way to winning the trophy the previous season.

Even this season, his late goal against Young Boys secured a place in the Uefa Champions League knockout stages.

The Belgian will leave as something of a cult figure with fans, and not just the ones who sported comic Fellaini wigs – he was given a song long before record signing Paul Pogba got a mention.

There’s an interesting contrast between the first signing of the post-Ferguson era and the last one the Scotsman made in his 26-year tenure.

For all Fellaini has been described as “not a Manchester United player” the same can never be said for Wilfried Zaha – apart from perhaps by David Moyes.

The Ivory Coast international has gone from strength-to-strength after not getting a look-in under Moyes and being shipped out on loan to Cardiff after just six months, before Van Gaal sent him back to Crystal Palace.

Reports this transfer window have said that Dalian Yifang are willing to pay him £11 million per year to move to China and Borussia Dortmund are open to breaking their transfer record for him.

Fellaini has not played since January 5 when he picked up a knock in the FA Cup victory over Reading at Old Trafford. That calf strain is expected to keep him out of action until late February but the Chinese transfer window goes until the end of that month.

Belgians are rated in China. Axel Witsel was the biggest before moving to Dortmund after the World Cup, but Mousa Dembele has since joined Guangzhou R&F from Tottenham, while Yannick Carrasco is still a Dalian Yifang player despite rumours of a return to Europe.

Fellaini and Dembele should have happy memories of China as part of the Belgium side that finished fourth at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. If Fellaini can dovetail with Graziano Pelle in the Velcro-chested No 10 role he had at Everton then he could make many more.

As he prepares to swap one provincial city once known for its textiles and now for its universities for another, perhaps Fellaini will be more appreciated in Jinan than Manchester.