Manchester United confirmed on Friday afternoon that Marouane Fellaini has signed a two-year extension with the club, putting to bed rumours that he was set to leave on a free transfer this summer.
Arsenal and AC Milan were among the teams linked with the player, as well as clubs in Turkey and China, after United allowed him to get to the final year of his contract without tying him down to a new deal.
For many United supporters, this news came as a huge relief. While his reputation at the club isn’t all of his own making, with him forever being tarred with the association to David Moyes and the horrors of that first season after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, it is clear that he is a fairly limited footballer.
That’s not to say that Fellaini hasn’t won some fans over as time has gone by, with important goals against the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal, as well as key contributions to trophy winning seasons. He scored in United’s 2-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup semi-final in 2016, their win against Hull in the League Cup semi-final against Hull in 2017, as well as the vital goal in the semi-final of the Europa League later that season against Celta Vigo.
His performance level has improved under Jose Mourinho and he has at times looked like the more imposing figure that he was at Everton.
Yet as much as United supporters will try to point to the positives, many will argue that clinging on to Fellaini is not a move the club should be making if their aspirations are to return to the glory days. He’s consistently average at best, with more poor performances than truly great ones.
The likes of City, Barcelona or Real Madrid wouldn’t look twice at a player like Fellaini, so Jose Mourinho’s desperation to keep him reflects badly on the manager and the club.
The role a player like Fellaini could play is an important one, particularly when considering Mourinho’s approach to the game, but there surely has to be a more talented alternative to the Belgian.
What makes the situation all the more frustrating for United supporters is the fact the club had to practically beg him.
“The entire staff is doing everything so I can stay,” Fellaini said in May. “The club did not renew my contract last year. Now I am in a strong position, especially since Mourinho has stated that he wants to keep me. Last year I went to the coach and I said that I wanted a new contract. I then had a second meeting, but I will not ask it 10 times. Afterwards I became important for the team… and a good player costs at least 50 million euros. The club knows that they went wrong there.”
The fans that Fellaini had started to win over were lost, with the player making it clear that he was in the position of power and the club would have to bend to his will if he was going to stay.
In the past, the likes of Roy Keane or Cristiano Ronaldo could have got away with putting pressure like this on the club, but not bang average midfielders like Fellaini.
Mourinho has spent all season claiming that he is an important player, apparently believing the Belgian would be grateful that a club like United would put an offer on the table. Instead he used it as a bargaining chip while his agent offered him around Europe to see if he could get a better deal.
Milan’s sporting director, Massimiliano Mirabelli, had been so confident that he spoke to the media about it last month, claiming Fellaini wasn’t renewing his contract at United.
Clearly no other club was prepared to match the extortionate salary that United have deemed him worthy of, so he’s staying at Old Trafford.
United need to sign midfielders who will take the club forward and Fellaini is not one of them. Yet for Mourinho, he’s a player who follows his instructions to a tee and is on his side. The manager likes to surround himself with players like this, who are loyal to him, and that seemingly overrides the need to be surrounded by players with world-class talent.
It’s a bad day for United but, with the transfer window still open for just over a month, supporters will have to keep hoping some gifted footballers are still on their way. Things can only get better, and they must if United are to mount a title challenge next season.
Scott is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.