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Patience the key to dealing with Marouane Fellaini


Manchester United’s Belgian footballer Marouane Fellaini (R) vies for the ball against Southampton’s Argentinian footballer Dari Osvaldo during their English Premier League football match at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, on October 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo credit should read ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images)

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On Wednesday, Marouane Fellaini faces his former club where, in 2008, he arrived a boy and five years later, left a man.

The problem is that since his arrival at Old Trafford Fellaini appears to have morphed back into a boy. At least, that’s what a number of Manchester United supporters think.

As someone who kept close tabs on Fellaini during his years at Everton, I’ve been approached by United fans on more than one occasion who say: ‘I thought you said Fellaini is good!?!? He sucks.’

Most of these fans have only watched Fellaini closely for the last three months, so I don’t completely disagree. ‘He’s struggling,’ or ‘He looks a bit lost out there,’ is my typical response.

But the idea that Fellaini lacks quality, or “sucks,” is ignorant. He was a beast at Everton.

It was only a year ago, in fact, that as an Everton player Fellaini single-handedly throttled United at Old Trafford, slamming home the winner in the 1-0 victory.

But I get it. People want immediate returns on their investments. And spending £27.5 million to acquire Fellaini from Everton was one very big investment.

So why has he struggled since moving to United?

Because it’s Manchester United. Simple enough. Sometimes it’s easy to forget what a big step up it is to move from a medium-large sized club (like Everton) to the world football hegemon that is Manchester United.

Too often fans expect the transition to be immediate, as was the case with Wayne Rooney. But Rooney is a special case, that of a player who was always supposed to reach superstar status.

Fellaini is different. A late developer, he has only recently acquired a mastery of his gangly limbs and goofy gait. He’s still not wonderful on the ball but he’s light-years better than he was only a few years ago and has all the tools to develop into a world-class player.

Like a baseball player being signed by the Yankees, the step-up can be difficult. Time is needed. At least, more than the 10 games he’s featured in for United so far. With Fellaini, it may take a full season before he is a dominant box-to-box midfielder. Which, by the way, is his best (and preferred) position.

At Everton he played as a second striker only because the club had limited options to play up front (Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic, to name a few) but at United he will blossom as a fierce tackling, box-to-box midfielder whose aerial ability and late rampaging runs into the box will change games.

Ultimately, Fellaini is most likely to form a partnership with Michael Carrick where the former gets stuck in and triggers the break-out on counters while the latter pulls the strings and distributes from deep. Playing this duo behind Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie and in front of Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans (or, eventually, Phil Jones) would form one heck of a spine.

With Jones suspended for Wednesday’s match and Carrick ruled out by an Achilles issue, it’s likely that Fellaini will partner Tom Cleverley in the center of the park.

Phil Neville, for one, has Fellaini’s back. “What is important for Marouane now is to play well in a match we win and he scores a goal,” he told the Manchester Evening News.

“There is nobody better at that than Felli,” Neville continued. “The United fans have not seen the best of him. When he came he wasn’t fully match fit but we are getting him fitter to play for United and be that box-to-box player.”

So advice to United fans who think Fellaini sucks - relax. Be patient. Encourage the big man.

And remember - owning one of the key components to the Beast Unit that is Beglium’s Golden Generation is a really, really good thing.

Follow @mprindi