For many of us 2016 has been the year of shite. The year that can happily find a garage somewhere, take the hosepipe out of its boot, attach it to the exhaust and start the engine with the window rolled down. The list of childhood heroes that have slipped their mortal coil this past eight months has been nothing short of shocking, while watching the country teeter on the brink of civil war as the likes of Nigel Farage bask in the anarchy they’ve caused makes many of us reach for the Smirnoff. It’s not been the best of times, but is has been memorable for something more than just celebrity deaths and referendums- the surprise package.
Before recently Theresa May was about as likely to be Prime Minister as she was to perform at the Edinburgh fringe festival in a one-woman show – now she’s occupying number 10.
Once, Donald Trump was a just another loud-mouth billionaire, in between giving Macauley Culkin directions in sequels, but the chances of him becoming president seemed less likely than his diminutive co-star in Home Alone 2. Now he’s a few months away from being handed the nuclear codes- and arguably a few months and several hours away from causing Armageddon.
And let’s not forgot what caused Gary Lineker to make even more of a pillock of himself than usual, on Match of the Day at the weekend.
Expect the unexpected could almost be the motto of 2016, unless of course you’re an Arsenal fan in which case, it’s a case of expect to start the season with a whimper, gain some momentum, not strengthen in January when you need to so you end up finishing top four but never really look like winning the league.
If 2016 is indeed a year of shocks and people we didn’t expect rising to the top making us eat our words, then United have their very own bombshell – and he’s got a huge afro. Utter the words ‘Marouane Fellaini’ to most United fans and you’re likely to be met with a chorus of sighs and eye-rolling- if not a stream of obscenities, such is the hatred many have for the Reds midfielder. Every time the starting lineup is announced and the lanky Belgian is part of it, the internet almost breaks with the sea of vitriol that pours onto social media from United fans furious at the former Evertonian’s inclusion. It’s easy to see why Fellaini stirs such anger amongst the Old Trafford faithful, he’s clumsy, susceptible to giving away needless free-kicks, not to mention receiving red cards his manager dubbed ‘unbelievably stupid.’ In a side with the craft of Juan Mata, the elegance of Michael Carrick and the guile of Ander Herrera, watching Fellaini plod around the pitch, elbowing anyone who gets in his way is hardly like to inspire love amongst fans. Yet maybe the fans should reconsider, Fellaini’s inclusion in the United side for Sunday’s win over Bournemouth had Reds everywhere foaming at the mouth, yet by the final whistle Jose Mourinho had this to say about his derided star:
“With Fellaini I always have the feeling that he was not loved by the general Red people,” Mourinho told MUTV.
“But if he plays like he’s playing now, they have to love him because he’s being so important for us.”
While it may be asking a bit much from United fans to suddenly start loving a player they’ve previously despised, Fellaini can take heart from the fact other players have managed to win over the supporters following a period of loathing.
Wayne Rooney’s decision to not sign on the dotted line a few years ago made him public enemy number one at Old Trafford, a feat he would repeat a few years later, but thanks to his performances- and goals- he was able to turn it around. Sort of. While never being hated, Michael Carrick was at the very least underappreciated, I recall him being booed for passing backwards around five seasons ago against Chelsea as fans got fed up of his possession based composure and thought the partnership of Anderson and Tom Cleverley was the answer- oh how little we knew. Fast forward a few years and Carrick was deemed good enough to share a chant with Paul Scholes. While it would be something of a miracle if Fellaini were to reach such heights of devotion, there is a chance sooner or later United fans may get used to the idea the midfielder is in the side on merit rather than a collective mental breakdown from a succession of managers. As Mourinho pointed out Fellaini is important to the Reds and has been since his arrival.
The purple patch of six consecutive wins that saved Louis van Gaal’s job in his first season at Old Trafford, came in no small measure thanks to Fellaini who played a big part in that six game winning run that helped guarantee Champions League football, last season, while hardly setting the league alight, Fellaini at least played his part in some important wins. Let’s not forget the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger may have been more revered but both suffered issues around injuries and form, which made Fellaini’s inclusion something of a necessity – even the haloed Carrick was patchy at best during the last campaign.
Fellaini offers something different from an attacking perspective and is difficult to play against from a defensive point of view. Against Bournemouth he was asked to do the latter and as Mourinho pointed out fulfilled an important role. Even after several vital headed clearances and a 99% pass rate- yes you read that right, 99% – the best of anyone who started for the Reds. If Herrera or Mata achieved such accuracy we’d never hear the end of it.
With Paul Pogba’s imminent arrival into the starting line up, maybe having someone alongside him to do all the dirty work isn’t such a bad idea and maybe it could earn Fellaini the love of the fans and not just his manager.
Let’s be honest we’ve seen much stranger things during 2016.