Everton sprung a 1-0 surprise victory on giants Manchester United on opening weekend of the English Premier Soccer League. And one of the major forces behind the victory was Moroccan-Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini.
Fellaini is starting his fifth season for Everton but is still only 24 years old. He has been described as possibly the most underrated player in the EPL. Described as an old-fashioned box-to-box midfielder, Fellaini has toiled in obscurity due to playing for a less-than-glamorous club, Everton. Injuries have also dulled his luster to this point.
But on the pitch, he is easy to spot. With his constant energy, his unusual height for a midfielder, and his giant afro, â€œThe Perminatorâ€ as he is often called always makes his presence known.
At a massive six-foot-five inches in height, Fellaini shows the skill and finesse of players half his size. Yet in spite of his play and appearance, he is somehow overlooked. In conversations about the gameâ€™s best midfielders, he is seldom mentioned.
Fellaini was born to Moroccan parents in the working-class Etterbeek neighborhood of Brussels. His father, Abdellatif, played professionally as a goalkeeper in the 1970s and settled in Belgium. Marouane joined the Anderlecht academy when he was seven but was put on a team for lowly-regarded prospects. So at 10 he left and bounced between three more clubs, looking for appreciation for his unorthodox game, until, finally, he signed with another Belgian club, Standard LiÃ¨ge at 17 in 2004.
He made the first squad in 2006 and by 2007 was soon on the radar of big clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa. He held off on a move to United and signed a new contract with Standard Liege. The next summer, having just won Standardâ€™s first league title in 25 years alongside U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu, he was sold to Everton for some $25 million, an Everton and Belgian record price.
Evertonâ€™s inexhaustible pillar in a frenetic, hard-fought game, Fellaini played in the hole behind striker Nikica Jelavic. His performance allowed Everton to let Tim Cahill, the long-time incumbent of that position, leave for Major League Soccer in the U.S.
Using his hold-up play to enable chances for teammates â€“ and himself, like a first-half run by the back line that resulted in a dink off the post â€“ but distributing and covering ground on defense too, Fellaini was immense long before the 57th minute, when he scored the gameâ€™s only goal. Even though the entire stadium knew who the corner kick would be aimed towards, Fellaini cut towards the first post, casually vaulted over Michael Carrick, and cushioned the ball low into the net with his luscious curls. He celebrated by demonstratively running his forearm over his â€˜fro.
Fellaini stole the show on a night when two hugely hyped United signings, Kagawa and Robin van Persie, acquired for a total of $65 million, made their debuts, and he was substituted off to a raucous ovation and adoring embraces from teammates in the 92nd minute. However, if this secret gets out, Fellaini may not be long for a middling club such as Everton, and may soon be gracing the much bigger stages of European soccer.