By Simon Evans
LONDON (Reuters) – Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini proved once again why he has become Jose Mourinho’s ‘go to’ player with his late goal against Swiss side Young Boys securing a place in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday.
There have been few United players who have lived up to their hype during the Mourinho era at Old Trafford and the 31-year-old former Everton midfielder is perhaps alone in having exceeded expectations.
While Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez struggle to justify the huge investment in them, the outlay on the Belgian international is proving to be money well spent.
Fellaini’s arrival in 2013 as a 27.5 million pounds signing by his former Everton boss David Moyes, was hardly greeted with enthusiasm by United fans who were already underwhelmed by the choice of successor to Alex Ferguson.
Moyes later said he did not want to make Fellaini his first buy because he feared how it would be viewed by sceptical fans.
After the Scot was sacked, his replacement as manager Dutchman Luis van Gaal stuck with the tall Belgian and Mourinho has relished turning to him as an impact substitute.
“I always try to give everything for the team whether I start or don’t start. Everybody knows I am a team player,” said Fellaini, who said he felt the belief from Mourinho.
“I feel comfortable. I’m happy with him. He gives me a lot of confidence and he trusts me. That’s important for a player. I try to pay him back on the pitch,” he said.
Mourinho has turned to Fellaini on several occasions as an extra attacker, using his height to allow a more direct style in the final stages when chasing a game.
He has also used the Belgian as a protector in front of his often fragile defence, where his physical presence and aerial prowess have helped nullify opponents.
The manager’s reaction to the late goal that secured a 1-0 win on Tuesday, a well-taken shot on the turn, was a release of frustration as the Portuguese smashed water bottles against the ground but after the game he had a word for Fellaini.
“Felli works hard. That is what you can demand and that is what a player has to do without anyone demanding it, and he does that,” said Mourinho, whose side are struggling in seventh place in the Premier League.
Whatever happens at the end of the campaign, with transfer rumours already swirling around United’s most marketable assets, it would be a surprise if Fellaini is not part of the club’s plans.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)