The man who can run a game with his chest

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The Belgians have taken the Premier League by storm and there is one man in particular who is leading the way – Marouane Fellaini. It can even be argued that the towering midfielder was partially responsible for Manchester United losing the title to Man City last year given the way he almost single-handledly brought Everton back into that famous game that ended in a 4-4 draw. Fellaini continues to be at the heart of everything good at Everton this season and so far he has amassed 6 goals and 3 assists in 11 league appearances for the Merseyside club. At TKTG, we thought it was about time we took a look at what makes this player so special and whether or not he can take the next step towards glory by landing himself a move to one of Europe’s top clubs.

…Billed most often as an attacking midfielder, it is his sheer physical scale that tends to generate a familiar buzz of folkish excitement: the unusual breadth of his limbs, that vast bobbing head shrouded in its lustrous Bel-fro, the fact that often in the Premier League he looks a bit like a man kicking a balloon around in his socks at Christmas.”Fellaini can be unplayable ,” it is sometimes said, and English football has always loved this word with its suggestion of some state of unanswerable psychical ultimacy, of tiring of all the difficult, intricate stuff and simply turning the Scrabble board upside down, ripping up the exam paper. Andy Carroll in his best moments is described as “unplayable”, albeit his career ambitions seem to have narrowed in recent weeks into a repeated attempt to execute successfully a flying overhead kick, leading him to spend large parts of any game writhing on his back like a giant doomed woodlouse.

…At first glance, with his outsized physicality, his double-thickness limbs, (Fellaini) looks like another example of that recent phenomenon the Undercover Big Man, an attacking midfielder who lurks in fashionable areas but is there to perform what is essentially an old-fashioned concussive function, not so much playing in the hole as ripping you a new one.

Much has been made of Yaya Touré’s highly effective runaway-caravan role at Manchester City, those periods when he is encouraged to gallop with the ball towards an opposing defence, a gambit that in its more unhinged moments brings to mind the final Lycra-ripping, vein-popping stages of the barrel-running round of the World’s Strongest Man.

It isn’t just size, though. Fellaini brings his own specialised skill: a unique ability to play football with his chest. Really, he is the best at this. A while back, Sky Sports’ Goals on Sunday did a montage of Fellaini chest-skill and it was genuinely awe-inspiring, the Fellaini chest seeming to caress the ball, to guide and persuade it with a craftsman’s precision.

Like all good players Fellaini can pass, run and finish. But uniquely this is a man who can also run a game with his chest, leaping to grab the ball out of its flight like a man taking a bullet for the president, cupping it, swilling it around, redirecting it with a single practised flex of a chest that must by now have the texture of a delightfully weathered and worn wicketkeeping glove of the 1930s.

For the neutral it is to be hoped that Fellaini will stay at Everton in January, if only because this seems to be good for him and good for Everton, not to mention good for those who admire chest work of the highest class. And perhaps in the end the chest simply needs a standard bearer.

Barney Ronay at The Guardian continues to wax lyrical about the Belgian’s torso in his piece titled “The man who can run a game with his treasured chest”. Now that Fellaini has launched himself into the list of most coveted EPL footballers, we look at what could be in store for him in the future – John McManus answers the question “How far can Fellaini really go?”:

While Everton would obviously love to keep hold of them and should they achieve Champions League football this season, a feat not entirely out of the realms of possibility given the respective struggles of top four rivals Arsenal, Newcastle and Tottenham so far, then they may be able to hold on to him for at least another season. Nevertheless, you sense that there’s an expiry date on his time at Goodison Park and that he’s destined for more than the club can offer him.

He certainly wouldn’t look out of his depth playing for someone like Real Madrid, Chelsea or Manchester United on current form and while the £25m fee that it would probably take for him to part Merseyside may be seen as a bit on the steep side by some, international team-mate Axel Witsel recently transferred to Russian club Zenit St Petersburg for €40 million and Fellaini is arguably a more effective and versatile performer than him, already familiar with the top flight, albeit with limited European experience, so it’s about right if you ask me.

There’s an argument to be made that Fellaini may be slightly too cumbersome and slow to play an attacking role in Jose Mourinho’s side, while Manchester United and Chelsea are less prone to supplying the sort of direct service he thrives on, even if at Old Trafford he would have an ample supply of crosses to get his head onto.

Moreover, cast your eye around Europe at the moment and the lack of quality, recognised holding midfielders on show is scarce and there appears to be a real dearth of talent in that role at the moment. At Barcelona, Javier Mascherano has been converted into a sweeper to make up for the injury-prone nature of the ageing Carles Puyol.

Elsewhere, the likes of John Obi Mikel and Darren Fletcher both have their flaws, with really only Javi Martinez, Sergio Busquets and Sami Khedira to write home about. There’s nothing to stop Fellaini being held in such esteemed company in the future, but he may have to forgo his fondness for an attacking role to achieve it.

He is an hugely intelligent, adaptable and tactically aware player who uses the ball well in tight spaces, not to mention his aerial dominance and robustness in the tackle. At the true pinnacle of European football, though, there will always be quicker, trickier players capable of ‘breaking lines’ in the opponents final third and Fellaini may come to resemble a limited throwback to a forgotten generation of stylistic stagnation.

There’s no doubting his talent and the fact that he has something to offer the truly best teams in the world at the moment, but there are legitimate concerns over whether he is the right fit for the slick, fluid forward play that has become the fashionable in-vogue style on the continent. He has all the tools, but where he uses them will dictate how successful his career will eventually turn out to be.

Marouane himself, however, is in no rush to leave Everton. “There is interest in me but Everton are an ambitious club as well,” the midfielder told ESPN. “I don’t think they’ll let their best players go just like that. I want to play for one of the biggest clubs one day. But I am patient.” Meanwhile, Fellaini’s manager, David Moyes faces questions over the “inevitable” transfer of his player with a straight face, as ESPN FC reports:

“It would be a big price on his head but we’ve got no problem in people coming and watching him. “I’m not in the mood now to keep the fight going all the time because we’ve had to do it with a lot of players. But Felli knows what I think and I know what he thinks and I think more than anything he’d love to take Everton into the Champions League and that’s what we’ll try to achieve.

…Moyes has had to sell key players to balance his budget in recent years, most notably defender Joleon Lescott, who went to Manchester City for £22 million in 2009, and midfielder Mikel Arteta, who went to Arsenal for £10 million in 2011.

Yet despite those departures, Everton have consistently finished in the top half of the Premier League.

“We sold Lescott, we sold Arteta and we’ve all felt really down when we’ve lost those players but we’ve had to pick ourselves up and go and find other ones,” Moyes said.

“The club will always be bigger than any player, any manager, and the players we’ve brought in are showing that.”

Do you think Fellaini should move in the coming transfer window in order to gain access to the coveted Champions League or should he stay at Everton and try to take his side to Europe’s top club competition? Let us know your thoughts.

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