The dramatic signing of 20-year-old Belgium international midfielder Marouane Fellaini in the closing minutes of the 2008 summer transfer window concluded one of the most dramatic pieces of transfer business in the club’s history. David Moyes had tracked the Standard Liege midfielder for more than six months, but it wasn’t until the window drew to its close that it became clear if he would get his man. Last-ditch machinations – which at one stage included the dispatch of a private jet – saw the deal close moments before the midnight deadline. At £15million Fellaini became the most expensive player in Everton’s history.
Born to Moroccan parents from Tangier and brought up in Brussels, Fellaini came from footballing stock. His father Abdellatif Fellaini had played in goal with Raja Casablanca and Hassania Agadir and earned a move to Racing Mechelen but was unable to play because his former Belgian club refused to release his paperwork. His son was picked up by the Anderlecht academy when he was aged just seven, eventually signing as a professional for Standard Liege as a 17-year-old. He represented Belgium at U-18, U-19 and U-21 level and, a year after breaking into the Liege team in 2006, the Belgian national team. He was awarded the Ebony Shoe in 2008, the prize given to the best player of African descent. Daniel Amokachi had been awarded the same prize twice while playing for Club Bruges in the early 1990s.
FELLAINI had by then attracted a reputation as the best box-to-box midfielder in the Belgian league. A tall, rangy player, he combined the guile of a long-distance runner with the grace of a ballerina. Despite his imposing frame he possessed the knack of being able to delicately pluck the ball from the air and spray it across the pitch. His technique was simple; his passing accuracy formidable. Standing 6ft 41⁄2in he offered an imposing physical and aerial threat. In short he possessed all the facets one would expect from a modern midfield dynamo.
And yet with sky-high expectations from the Goodison crowd, his first days at the club were undermined by inconsistency. At times the new signing looked lost in the hurly-burly maelstrom of the Premier League. His acute football brain was never in doubt, but questions were posed of his aptitude amid the pace and intensity of English football.
His slightly awkward gait also saw him singled out by referees and he collected ten bookings in his first three months at the club. At times Moyes even deployed him as a makeshift centre forward.
Slowly but surely he got to grips with the Premier League and by the start of 2009 was flourishing. Among supporters he became something of a cult figure, with fans wearing Afro wigs in homage to their new hero. There were goals too, none more important than that which set Everton on their way to an FA Cup quarter-final victory against Middlesbrough. In the FA Cup Final against Chelsea it was Fellaini’s knockdown that Louis Saha smashed home to put Everton in front after just 25 seconds. At the end of his debut season he was Everton’s joint top goalscorer with nine goals and awarded the club’s Young Player of the Season.
LONG-TERM injury to Mikel Arteta had by this stage made Fellaini more central to Everton’s play. He took on more responsibilities and became the focal point of the midfield. Although never a spectacular player, there were some breathtaking flourishes, such as a 360-degree pirouette on the ball during Everton’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City in January 2010. Following Arteta’s departure in 2011 his importance to the Everton cause increased. Statistically he became Everton’s most vital player. The Everton tactics blog, Executioner’s Bong, made the following assessment in March 2012:
Fellaini’s athleticism is there for all to see; he is in the top 1% of midfielders in terms of energy and distance covered during matches. He has the 4th highest average distance run per game in the top flight, clocking up a whopping 6.65 miles per match. His notable marathon matches this season include 7.5 miles in the derby defeat and 7mile+ outings in the away games at Man City and Fulham. He is also more than useful in the opposition box despite often playing quite deep ... he made it into double figures for goals in his first season on Merseyside and has scored in all 3 competitions this campaign. Perhaps the biggest impact he makes in the final third though is in terms of attracting the attention of several markers / blockers and causing general chaos particularly at set pieces.
Newspaper speculation has often linked Fellaini with a move beyond Goodison, with both Chelsea and Real Madrid said to be coveting his services. But in November 2011 and with just 18 months left on his existing contract, Fellaini signed a new deal with Everton committing him to the club until 2016. ‘We are delighted to have secured the services of Marouane for the long term,’ said Everton chief executive Robert Elstone. ‘As everyone is aware these negotiations have been ongoing for some time but both parties remained positive that we would reach agreement. Marouane has been a hugely influential player for Everton since his arrival in 2008 and we hope that remains to be the case for the next five years.’