Are you watching Manchester United? Scapegoat Fellaini on fire in China

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Marouane Fellaini Shandong
The Belgian was a divisive figure at Old Trafford, but has begun life with a bang in Asia

"You can only look back with a smile."

That's how Marouane Fellaini reflects on his time at Manchester United, but for most fans the lanky midfielder was seen as one of many missteps made in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Signed by a desperate David Moyes from Everton for £28 million (€32m/$35m) in 2013, Fellaini struggled to convince fans he was worthy of the Red Devils shirt, let alone the price tag, across his near six seasons at the club.

After 177 appearances and 22 goals for United - the 31-year-old exited the club in February with very little fanfare.

"I went away sober," Fellaini told Het Niuewsblad

“I entered the dressing room when there were a few players. I packed up and left. Afterwards I received messages and phone calls. 

“My first season in Manchester was difficult, but I left as a respected player. I gave my very best for this club, played so many games and almost only scored important goals.

“I worked with super players and managers at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Then you can only look back with a smile."

While Fellaini did fall short of the heights he reached individually at the Toffees, where he also made 177 appearances across all competitions and scored 33 goals, the Belgian was arguably one of Manchester United's more successful signings during a difficult period for the club.

As other costly arrivals like Memphis Depay came and went with barely a whimper, Fellaini fought for a shirt he clearly had plenty of respect for.

Whether he was flinging his fuzzy head at an aerial ball or getting under an opponent's skin, the Belgian never shied away from what he was asked to do at Old Trafford. 

Marouane Fellaini Shandong

Moyes recently revealed Fellaini was in fact signed as a last resort on deadline day, making the career he was able to carve out in Manchester all the more remarkable.

"You can ask my staff - the last thing I wanted was for Marouane Fellaini to be my first signing," Moyes told Radio 5 Live in 2018.

"I knew, coming from my old club, the look was never going to be good.

"But we didn't get a lot of the things we hoped for and in the end we only ended up getting Marouane on deadline day or we would've got no one in that summer at all."

While Fellaini certainly didn't shine quite as bright as some would have hoped, considering the circumstances of his arrival and the turbulent years to come, his contribution at United shouldn't be discarded. 

Incidentally, since saying goodbye to the Red Devils, Fellaini has starred for his new Chinese club Shandong Luneng.

Across his 16 appearances to date, he's scored six goals - the same number he struck across his past two seasons with Manchester United. 

While the Chinese Super League certainly doesn't compare to the Premier League, it's worth noting that three of those six goals have come in the Asian Champions League.

Marouane Fellaini Shandong

No longer sporting his trademark afro and playing alongside former Southampton striker Graziano Pelle, Fellaini's fortunes in the final third have guided Shandong to the knockout stages of the continental competition for just the second time since 2005. 

Though signing for a club in China is seen as a lucrative and easy way for a footballer to end his career, Fellaini is adamant he hasn't moved for the money. And his performances to date prove he's playing for more than just a paycheck.

"I see this as a challenge at a club that has it all. Literally. You should see our medical and technical facilities. I love being here," he said. 

“I went to Shandong Luneng now because they were interested for years already. And I felt ready for a new challenge, a new culture, a new life. 

"Okay, I'm only 31 years old. But I signed for three years. Afterwards I'm 34, then it would be too late to go to China.

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“I could have joined a top European club and been important there for two more years, that would have been no problem. But after 10 years and 350 games in England, I felt ready for this step.

"I'm happy with my choice."

He has every right to be happy. No longer the scapegoat for Manchester United’s never-ending crisis, Fellaini is on fire at his new club. And based on his early form in China, he will take some putting out.