Last month Marouane Fellaini spoke of how he felt he had been made a scapegoat for David Moyes’ failed spell at the club and it’s fair to say that he was.
The Belgian wasn’t the man the Old Trafford faithful wanted, and his failure to make an immediate impact provided the perfect platform for criticism. He was very much a Moyes signing, having done so well for the Scot at Everton, and Moyes’ failure tainted all his decisions, including the purchase of Fellaini.
Fans and pundits alike said that Fellaini was the wrong type of player, he didn’t play the United way, and had no place in the team. In many ways they were right. United have long played a silky passing game, route one was not in their nature.
Fellaini’s exit seemed inevitable following the arrival of Louis van Gaal, but the 27-year-old is defying his detractors by carving out a niche for himself in the Dutchman’s side – and it’s not because he’s reinvented himself.
It was Fellaini’s physicality and strength in the air that saw him rake in the plaudits at Everton, and that hasn’t changed.
Speaking after Tuesday’s victory over Stoke, a fixture in which Fellaini opened the scoring with a towering header, Juan Mata hailed his afro-laden team-mate as one of the best in the league in terms of aerial prowess.
After the 2-2 draw with West Brom, Van Gaal said: "We have to also look for a physical balance. I am always looking for creative players and in England you need physical players as well."
With this in mind it’s no surprise that Fellaini has become a one of the first names on team sheet for the Dutchman of late; he is not technically gifted, but when used simply for power and height he can be effective.
However, a few strong showings doesn’t mean Fellaini is suddenly world class, or will become a key figure for the Red Devils in the long term, but it does illustrate that for now he has a role to play.
With Michael Carrick adopting a deep role in the United midfield, Fellaini is able to push up the field and use his height and strength to win balls. With the creative forces of Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera there to feed off what he plucks from the air, United suddenly have a midfield that has the potential to be rather effective, rather than horribly unbalanced.
As you United start to string wins together, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the club’s fans as many believed there would be, the only surprise is that Fellaini is one of those they have to thank for it.