Man United: Why Fellaini's Return Could Be The Turning Point In Our Season
Finding something positive to say about Manchester United at the moment is not easy.
After a wretched first half to David Moyes' first season in Sir Alex Ferguson's old office, it had seemed as though things couldn't get much worse. Yet, since the match at home to Tottenham at the turn of the year, the champions' form has been catastrophic.
Hence any attempt at positivity immediately seems straw-clutchingly futile. Each time we think a corner has been turned, we find ourselves hurtling into on-coming traffic just around the bend.
Take the impressive second half performance at home to Swansea, complete with actual counter attacks and a semblance of midfield coherence, followed by a humbling defeat at Stamford Bridge that included post-match comments from Jose Mourinho so patronising it would have come as no surprise had he offered us a Werther's Original and patted us on the head.
Then there was the signing of Juan Mata, flown into Carrington by helicopter in a publicity stunt so transparent we couldn't help but fall for it. We got gleefully caught up in the razzmatazz of it all, swooning over the Spaniard and cooing over Moyes' happy grin, simply because it offered such a welcome contrast to the look he had been sporting for so long; that of a man about to tuck into his last meal before a trip to the electric chair.
Yet even the unbridled joy we felt at this magnificent coup was short-lived, an away defeat at the hands of Stoke, in a game so Sunday League-like that it was a surprise not to see the players re-grouping on the touchline at halftime with nothing but a manky orange segment and a squirt of Fiery Jack as consolation for having to brave the elements for a further forty five minutes of hell.
Fair to say United fans have been in finer fettle than this then. Indeed, since the weekend, there have been more murmurings of discontent than at any time in our recent history. The squadron of supporters who wanted to see Moyes' head roll is fast becoming an army and, unless the Scot somehow finds a way to arrest this alarming slide, it can only be a matter of time before his job becomes, if not untenable, then surely just life-sappingly undignified.
Nevertheless, with the United faithful growing weary of reading about disaster, and me tiring of writing about it, and with the lot of us sick to the back teeth of witnessing it week after week, I have taken it upon myself to attempt to lift the spirits somewhat.
After all, we are not involved in a relegation scrap and, though title-winning glory is out of the question this season, a top-four finish is not beyond our reach.
There have been glimpses, even during the team's darkest displays, of real brilliance. This is to be expected, with the likes of Mata, Van Persie, Rooney, Januzaj and Kagawa in the squad. Where Moyes, and his players, now have to earn their money, is by turning such glimpses into sustained performances. In order to do this, such players of transcendental talent need protection. Which is where Marouane Fellaini comes in.
Fellaini's brief time at United has been mired in mediocrity, with many having already written him off as an overpriced failure. This seems rather unfair. After all, he can hardly be accused of being the sole disappointment in a season of such pathetic capitulation.
David Moyes knows Fellaini well, having worked with him for five years at Everton, so it cannot be beyond the realms of possibility that he can once again tap into the best the Belgian has to offer.
Since his arrival, Fellaini has appeared over-awed by the biggest challenge of his career. He's not the first, and won't be the last, to shrink under the harsh Manchester United spotlight, and the fragility he has shown cannot have been helped by the sight of the manager he knew so well from Goodison withering into a waif before his eyes.
It is up to Moyes to instil in Fellaini the self-belief and confidence he needs to excel on this stage. He needs to make the Belgian feel special, like a crucial cog in the machine.
As for Fellaini himself, some of the trepidation he must naturally have felt on joining the champions must surely have lessened during his time on the treatment table, as he watched the same soul-destroying spectacles as the supporters. He should approach his return to action with excitement at the prospect of imposing himself on, not just his opponents, but the champions themselves, thus giving his more attacking team mates, who themselves are just returning to fitness, a platform on which to build.
It may be clutching at straws but, at the moment, straws are all we have.