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Andy Lewis, 17th November 2011 - 10:47
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The pontificating of the Match of the Day 2 panel was particularly sanctimonious on that Sunday evening in April 2009 as Marouane Fellaini was hung, drawn and quartered with the aid of an incendiary video montage purportedly highlighting his dangerous use of the elbow.
The awkward kid from Belgium couldn’t speak English and was getting a tough time from referees – some of it just and some of it very unjust – and throwing indiscriminate clips together to create a veil of malice was wrong and drew the ire of David Moyes
He was quite understandably trying to protect his record signing.
Fellaini, in truth, was no angel, but was being offered scant protection from referees.
It was a baptism of fire, a difficult settling in period, and when you consider the vast improvements he has made since those tricky early days, it is easy to understand the joy at the conclusion of his new multi-million pound five-year contract this week.
These days he is nearing what you might call a complete midfielder - a key player and potentially Everton’s prize asset.
Assistant manager Steve Round has certainly been impressed with how he has come to embrace and adapt to English football.
“I think he has got to grips with the physical aspect of the Premier League now,” said the Blues No.2.
“He is not fouling as much and he is not getting frustrated with the referees.
“He is much calmer and more in emotional control with it all and I think that is helping the football side of things.
“I think it is just time and settling in. He has adapted to the league now, he understands and knows his opponents.
“The Premier League is totally different from most leagues in the world and moving from abroad it does take a while to settle in.”
Initially Fellaini’s height, frame and aerial threat meant defenders were more than prepared to strongarm him and the odd stray elbow came out as he tangled, tried to protect himself and shrug off the octopus-like groping of markers.
He was raw, at times ragged, taken by surprise by the aggressive personality of English football, frustrated by his inability to communicate and his unique appearance undoubtedly made his indiscretions more visible.
If there was one game that characterised the opening chapter of his Everton career it was the home draw against Manchester United when Phil Neville’s crunching tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo and Fellaini’s headed equaliser changed the course of the Blues’ season.
Goodison’s cult hero was passionate, spiky, scored a goal and was of course booked. One of 10 yellow cards he collected in just 17 games.
Three years on and the Belgian is still partial to the odd sanction, but he now stands out as one of the Premier League’s most improved players and the recession of his disciplinary ills is congruent with his increasing maturity.
His aerial prowess has been honed – whether in either box or winning those crucial headers in the middle of the park – and his tackling, workrate, positional sense and ability to mop up second balls are invaluable to his team.
Also his first touch, strength on the ball, ability to chip in with goals and languid, loping grace are now hallmarks of his game, and his improvements are abundantly clear to the coaches who work with him day in and day out.
“He is really starting to establish himself now,” added Round. “He has had a couple of years to get used to the Premier League and we must not forget he is still a young player and is still growing and maturing as a player.
“His stature and performance levels are rising all the time – day by day and game by game. We see it in training and we see it in matches, he is such a formidable force for us and such a big presence in the midfield.
“The injury (he suffered in the Merseyside derby) set him back a little bit. It was his first long-term injury and you have to discover how to get over that, but I think you will see him get better as he matures. He is still very young and there is still a lot more to come from him.
“Every week his technique is improving. He is very technically gifted anyway – some of his chest control and the way he can manipulate the ball to get out of trouble are excellent for such a big guy.
“And the pleasing thing for Everton is that he can still better, we have not seen the best of him yet. He can be a phenomenal player in years to come. I think he has probably only reached 80 to 85 per cent of his potential. He will get even better.”
To think Fellaini is capable of adding another 15 or 20 per cent to his game will be music to the ears of Evertonians, who must be longing to see him complete an injury-free campaign.
Not least now Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar have left the Club. Fellaini and Jack Rodwell are the future and it is time for them to impose their personalities on the team, to become its foundation for years to come
It has been a good week for the youth of Everton’s midfield with Rodwell’s England exploits and Fellaini’s show of commitment.
The former shows, if there was any doubt, that players can achieve their international ambitions with the Club, while the latter shows Everton can retain their best players.
Both provide some overdue positivity, a boost ahead of a crucial run of games.
Expect to see the Fellaini wigs out in force when Wolves visit Goodison on Saturday.
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