If Sir Alex Ferguson had suddenly got sight in his blind spot last summer and brought in Marouane Fellaini, there would have been wild rejoicing on the streets of Manchester (insert your own joke here). Six years after buying the increasingly unqualified success that is Michael Carrick and five years after getting his fingers burned with Owen Hargreaves, Ferguson would have basked in baking-hot praise for finally bringing physicality, energy, height, experience and goal threat to United's central midfield. Especially if he had made his move after Fellaini had beasted Tom Cleverley in the opening game of the season.
A year on and there's a sniffiness about the same player possibly joining David Moyes' United, despite that player easily outscoring any of United's midfielders in the Premier League last season. Yes, he played in a more advanced role for Everton, but the fact that he also out-tackled any of United's midfielders suggests that he was not simply standing behind Nikica Jelavic waiting to get his big fluffy head on Leighton Baines' diagonal balls.
Fellaini is on a very short list of central midfielders in the Premier League who a) are realistically available to United and b) would significantly improve them. We would argue that list is just three or four names long: Fellaini, Tottenham's Sandro/Mousa Dembele and Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye. The Spurs pair would cost £40m each with added Levy tax while Cabaye's 2012/13 season could be filed under 'underwhelming'. There are no such caveats for Fellaini, who is available for a reported £23.5m, even after a phenomenal season which he finished as the Toffees' top scorer.
The transfer of a combative, goalscoring midfielder for a reasonable price sounds like a no-brainer and yet there has been collective sighing and tutting from United fans who see any potential move for the Belgian as a cop-out from Moyes. After failing with moves for Thiago and Cesc Fabregas, the Scot will have merely done what we all suspected all along - gone back to his old club and bought their best player. Too easy. Too obvious. Presumably the sighing and tutting fans think Moyes should ignore the best available central midfielder outside the Premier League's top five on the grounds that he was the manager who made him the best available central midfielder outside the Premier League's top five.
At 25, Fellaini is the same age as Anderson and just two years older than Cleverley. Neither of those players - the current candidates to partner Carrick in United's midfield - are in his class. Fellaini may have played behind a lone striker for Moyes at Everton but the Belgian himself explained that change in May: "I'm happy with my season, although I didn't play in my best position. I'm not a No10. David Moyes predicts my future as a defensive midfielder, but due to a lack of offensive power, he plays me up front." At United, Moyes could play him in a withdrawn role but have the option of pushing him further forward if a more direct style was required. His height offers a versatility not found in alternatives like Sami Khedira or Lars Bender.
It has been argued before that Moyes cannot be blamed for missing out on a player given the option of joining his former coach at the European champions and, should Barcelona refuse to sell Fabregas, that failure can hardly be laid at Moyes' door either. If his reaction to those disappointments is to turn to Fellaini - one of the better options available across Europe - he should at least be judged on the same criteria as his predecessor. What would have been an intelligent signing a year ago cannot become a cop-out just because Moyes used to manage Fellaini.
In an ideal world, Moyes would presumably prefer to make more of a statement of intent in the transfer market but if he begins next season with Fellaini and Baines as his only significant summer signings then he will have still significantly improved a squad that has just won the Premier League. Wasn't that his brief at the beginning of the window?
This article first appeared on Football365