Chris McGrath: How did Fellaini and friends not get Belgium into Euro 2012?
Fellaini is a complete player. He has dynamism, skill and courage
As many had anticipated, the match at Goodison on Monday duly anointed one of the key transfers of the summer. No, not Van Persie; nor Kagawa, either, albeit his instinctive interplay was in luminous contrast to the cumbersome tempo maintained by his new team-mates. Against all expectation, the pivotal signature instead turned out to be the one scrawled by Tim Cahill on a contract with the New York Red Bulls.
Though he remained typically committed throughout a petrifying drought during his last 18 months at the club, the fact is that the Australian's exit has prompted David Moyes to restore Marouane Fellaini to a more advanced role. And the resulting tour de force – merely gilded by the winning header – crowned an opening weekend to enthuse anyone whose allegiance this season will be confined to managers who eke out value, and values, from their sport's toxic financial environment.
One swallow doesn't make a summer, nor even five swans. With due respect to their victims, however, neutrals will exult in those opening salvoes from Michael Laudrup and Martin Jol. Michu for £2m is downright larceny, a hilarious reproach to the myopic scouting that inflates the other end of the market.
As such, it is especially gratifying that Moyes has contrived to make even a club-record fee of £15m look excellent business. It has been evident for some time that the one and only time Bill Kenwright gave him big money – not to mention the private jet he chartered to Brussels, on deadline day four years ago – Moyes came up with a player who could now walk straight into a Champions League final, no questions asked. And Fellaini, entering his prime at 24, signed a new five-year contract last November.
Sir Alex Ferguson's complaints that Everton had "just lumped the ball" to Fellaini were presumably disingenuous, rather than plain stupid. At 6ft 4in, or 7ft 8in including the Afro, Fellaini does tend to deceive people that his game is largely about physicality. But the dexterity of his link-up play, with all those cushioned lay-offs, confirmed a precision to complement all that brawn and stamina. And the last match in which anyone's chest proved quite so magnetic was the one that united J Howard Marshall with the tragic Anna Nicole Smith.
Fellaini bestrode the game. But he is such a complete player that Moyes must decide whether his terrifying depredations, deployed behind Nikica Jelavic, compensate for a corresponding void in front of defence. Fellaini's stats last season were just ridiculous, from distance covered to passes to tackles. The 190 occasions he won possession in midfield compared with 164 by Alex Song, No 2 in the chart.
At this point it is just worth reminding critics how livid they were about Arsène Wenger's stubborn refusal to buy some prime beef for Arsenal's defensive spine. It turns out that he already had a player, in Song, now good enough for Barcelona; while the people who wanted Matthew Upson, instead of this Vermaelen character, seem to have fallen quiet of late.
The link here, of course, is Belgium. For the most bewildering mystery of the football summer was how Vermaelen and Fellaini, alongside the likes of Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Moussa Dembele, contrived not to qualify for a tournament accommodating the Neanderthal tactics of England and Ireland. Under their new coach, Marc Wilmots, Belgium last week beat the Netherlands 4-2 in the "Derby der Lage Landen". They are already beginning to talk about Brazil 2014, perhaps even emulating the generation of Scifo and Gerets, who bumped into Maradona in the 1986 World Cup semi-final.
Nobody seems to be able to explain why quite so many top-class young players should suddenly emerge together. True, in the 10 years since Belgium last qualified for a tournament, some clubs have invested heavily in academies. Standard Liège, for instance, recouped everything they put into theirs in that single deal with Everton for Fellaini. But Hazard was schooled in France, Vermaelen and Vertonghen in the Netherlands. And it always seems too much to hope that the two halves of Belgium might achieve coherent patriotic integration in football, when such hostility infects every other walk of life.
Apart from beer and the royal family, football is ostensibly the only thing that keeps Flanders and Wallonia together. But sport can never be impermeable to dysfunction and dissonance in broader society. Many allege a candid quota system in selection for the Rode Duivels. Or, if you will, the Diables Rouges.
Recently, ending 541 days without a government, Elio de Rupo became the first francophone Belgian premier for 33 years. But he also introduced extraneous flavours. Of Italian descent, he is the European Union's first openly gay leader, and likes to wear bow ties.
Perhaps Fellaini, with his Moroccan roots, can himself amplify the virtues of diversity as talisman for this blossoming team. He has so much dynamism, skill and courage; and, while they are an awfully long way away, he evidently keeps those feet firmly on the ground. Anyone who saw him on Monday, or Hazard at Wigan over the weekend, will agree. If you lot can't live together, we'll gladly have you over here.
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