When Manchester United signed Marouane Fellaini in the last hours of the 2017 transfer deadline day, many United fans scoffed at a player who they saw as a problem and not a solution to the midfield.
Fast forward four years and the importance of the Belgian to the team is evident to see, scoring those vital goals in important games that mean a lot to everyone at the club.
In the past few years, these have come in crucial league victories against rivals, such as Manchester City, while his significance in United’s respective cup semi-finals against Everton and Celta Vigo cannot be understated.
From the time when the Old Trafford crowd booed him, Fellaini has recovered not only his form but more importantly for him his reputation.
So it was perhaps not a surprise to see him star for United in their first UEFA Champions League match, albeit against a Basel side who had not beaten the Red Devils in their last three games.
The Belgian started on the bench last night but came on when Paul Pogba picked up a nasty hamstring injury in the 16th minute.
It didn’t take him long to make an impact. With Antonio Valencia rested for the Premier League match against Everton, Ashley Young started his first game of the season at right back, his delivery a gift on a silver platter for Fellaini.
And in the 34th minute that is what happened as Young’s whipped cross found the Belgian at the back post to put United in-front, Fellaini brushing past Basel’s Marek Suchy and Manuel Akanji to nod home.
This is why Jose Mourinho sees the midfielder as a vital asset to the squad and recently spoke on Galatasaray’s interest in him that it would be easier for the Turkish club to prize Mourinho himself than Fellaini.
The Belgian offers a different dynamic. He is the pure definition of the Plan B option. Physicality, strength, and drive are three characteristics that are synonymous with a man who has a consistent tendency to be in the right place at the right time.
Yet against Basel, Fellaini also showcased another style to his own game, one that was crucial in United controlling the centre of the pitch.
Over 90 minutes he made two vital interceptions, had an aerial duel success rate of 75% but more importantly was spatially aware of his teammates, picking out neat through balls for the likes of Henrik Mkhitaryan to propel United into dangerous areas.
In the end, it was an easy win for United, with Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford adding to the score-sheet. It was Fellaini who set the ball rolling though, and if he continues to play like that, then he could become more synonymous with Plan A over Plan B in the future.