By Liam Twomey
As David Moyes ponders the make-up of his Everton side for the visit of Newcastle next Monday, he may well dwell with bitterness on the fact that no sooner had he solved the mystery of his team's inability to start a Premier League season before Christmas, a new problem he could scarcely have planned for is threatening to scupper their hard-earned momentum.
With the exception of a comprehensive defeat suffered at the hands of West Brom last time out, the Toffees' start to the new campaign has been rich in promise. Manchester United were battered into submission on the opening day before Aston Villa were blown away inside 45 minutes on their own turf, while a League Cup rout of Leyton Orient has kept all avenues of potential silverware open.
A central figure in this early success has been Marouane Fellaini. The towering Belgian bullied and tortured a makeshift United defence before scoring the winner in emphatic fashion, and also made his considerable presence felt with another powerful header at Villa Park. Moyes' teams are built above all on their collective strength, but Fellaini has undeniably emerged as a key asset.
|FELLAINI'S EVERTON CAREER
"I am just starting my fifth season at Everton," he was quoted as saying. "This will be one of my last. I have seen everything. In January or at the end of the season I will turn to another club or league."
Fellaini later released a statement on his Facebook page revealing he was "surprised" to hear of the speculation surrounding his future, and re-affirming his commitment to helping Everton achieve their aims this season. His lack of an explicit denial of the comments, however, coupled with his failure to clarify his intentions beyond the summer, provided little in the way of reassurance.
It seems reasonably clear that, after four seasons at Goodison Park, the Belgian is at least considering his next step. Nor is it particularly surprising, given that England's top clubs appear to be taking more and more notice of a man whose unique skill-set marks him out as an intriguing talent.
Many eyebrows were raised when the normally thrifty Bill Kenwright was persuaded by Moyes to splash out a club record £15 million for a 20-year-old midfielder back in the summer of 2008, and more followed at the first glimpse of the new signing. With his imposing physique and instantly iconic afro, it was clear Fellaini would never be able to fade into obscurity. Thankfully he never tried.
Instead he set about making his mark – a little too enthusiastically at first, picking up 10 bookings in his first 17 Premier League appearances. His strength, tenacity and industry instantly endeared him to the Toffees faithful, while his ball retention skills and awareness hinted at a complete midfielder in the making.
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Fellaini's versatility has also proven invaluable to Moyes as the Scot continues to make success with a small squad an art form. Whether deployed as a midfield destroyer, creator or wrecking ball in the final third, he showcases the ability to be decisive against top opposition.
But the greatest quality the Belgian possesses is the aura which surrounds him. His sheer presence appears to lift his team-mates and unnerve opponents. He is not yet the finished article but, at 24, has plenty of time to hone his gifts and mature into a truly world-class operator.
Unfortunately for Everton and for Moyes, it appears the next chapter in Fellaini's story is fast approaching, and will more than likely involve a change of scene. Where he will go is not yet clear, but several of England's elite may well be tempted to make an offer.
Chelsea appear light in central midfield in the wake of the departures of Raul Meireles to Fenerbahce and Michael Essien on loan to Real Madrid, and might easily regard the 24-year-old as a distinct upgrade on the disciplined but pedestrian Jon Obi Mikel.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are by their own admission searching for a defensive midfielder following the sale of Alex Song to Barcelona, and have lacked a powerful presence in the centre of the pitch ever since the departure of Patrick Vieira. Fellaini is nowhere near that class, but history shows few men polish a rough diamond better than Arsene Wenger.
But it is United who perhaps have the greatest need. Their so far fruitless search for a successor to Paul Scholes has been well documented, but Roy Keane left a void which has never been adequately filled. Fellaini is different in many respects, but would at least supply the snapping tenacity of which the likes of Michael Carrick and Anderson are incapable.
If Fellaini has indeed decided this will be his final season at Everton, he can rest assured he will be presented with a healthy choice of destinations come the summer. In the meantime, Moyes will simply be hoping his star man continues to be part of the solution to his problems.
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