Marouane Fellaini could win the World Cup. Let that sink in. The player who has been mocked, disliked, booed and laughed-at may return to Manchester this summer with the biggest medal in football.
What’s even stranger about it is that if Belgium do win the World Cup, Fellaini can genuinely claim to have played a part in their success.
Belgium knocked out the favourites, Brazil, following a 2-1 win, and Fellaini won five attacking aerial duals over the 90 minutes, which is as many as every other player on the pitch combined. He recovered possession more than any other Belgium player, only Miranda and Thomas Meunier won more tackles, and no Belgian player made more interceptions.
Neymar, the player supposedly next in line for the Ballon d’Or throne once Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi vacate it, made himself comfortable in Fellaini’s back pocket.
For Fellaini to start the game shows a change in thinking for Roberto Martinez, who didn’t give a single minute of playing time to the midfielder in the opening game against Panama.
In their second fixture, against Tunisia, Fellaini got half an hour, but this was to give Romelu Lukaku a rest after the Belgians had scored four goals early on.
Belgium faced England in their final group stage outing, a match that Martinez claimed he wasn’t bothered about winning, and played their B team. Fellaini started and took advantage of the rare opportunity to show what he could do.
In a match littered with Premier League stars, Fellaini stood out as one of the best performers. He controlled the midfield, was strong in the tackle and denied Danny Welbeck from scoring an equaliser.
The same praise could be offered for Belgium’s next match against Japan, where Fellaini scored the equalising goal before they went on to win.
His performance against Brazil was the best of the lot though, leaving fans who have derided him for years to wonder whether Jose Mourinho wasn’t as mad as he appeared when showing desperation to convince Fellaini to extend his contract with the club.
“I think he is player that you have to work with to appreciate what he really brings,” said Martinez. “As a team player he always sees that every action is the end of the world and that makes him a warrior and someone that every coach and manager would love to have in his team.”
If Fellaini played for United the way he has in this World Cup, there would be no complaints.
However, while his performance level has been higher since Mourinho was appointed than under David Moyes and Louis can Gaal, even at his very best, he’s still largely been a long way short of the world-class midfielder United fans would hope for.
He’s had his moments though, most notably scoring in the three semi-finals to book United’s place in the final of the last three trophies they’ve won. While he might drive a lot of fans mad, he’s contributed directly to more silverware than some of the more popular figures at the club.
Can Mourinho find a way to get out of Fellaini what Martinez does? He’s unlikely to be a starter for United next season, especially with the summer addition of Brazil’s Fred, but if Fellaini can replicate his form from the World Cup then maybe the club did well to secure his future as an option for their midfield.