Fellaini: 'Midfield, defence, up front – wherever Van Gaal needs me, I'm there'
Marouane Fellaini leans forward on the sofa, voice hushed, as he speaks to FourFourTwo. It's hard not to notice the paradox, the contrast between Fellaini the footballer and Fellaini the man.
On the field, everything about Fellaini is geared towards being the centre of attention. The hair, the imposing 6ft 4in frame, the dominating influence when he's at his very best.
Away from the pitch though, Fellaini the man seems reluctant to dominate this small room of six people, where we meet on the outskirts of Warrington. He arrives with a polite but unassuming smile, and when he starts talking to FFT the quietness of his voice hints at a man who does not crave attention off the field. Far from it. "The hair makes him look like an extrovert," David Moyes once said. "But he's a shy, humble boy."
Mention Fellaini, and the name David Moyes is never far away. It was Moyes who brought Fellaini to England from Standard Liege, for £15 million on the final day of the summer transfer window in 2008. It was Moyes too who took Fellaini to Old Trafford five years later, for £27.5m in another transfer that went right to the wire on deadline day. Their association lasted six years before Moyes was dismissed by Manchester United in April 2014. Fellaini chooses his words carefully as he reflects on that moment.
"Manchester United is a big team and when the team don't get results, there are changes," he begins philosophically. "He brought me to England so I'll always be thankful for that. I learned a lot with him, I had six years with him. He did a lot for me. I always worked hard for him to win games."
I think he will find the right team for him. He has the qualities to find a good team in England. He knows how to deal with the players and with the club. I think he will be good in England again
Sacked by Real Sociedad a month ago, Moyes is without a club once more. His next move remains uncertain. Another foray abroad, or a return to the Premier League. Fellaini has no doubts that his old boss deserves another opportunity in England, should the Scot desire it.
"I think he will find the right team for him," Fellaini says. "He has the qualities to find a good team in England. He knows how to deal with the players and with the club. I think he will be good in England again." Could the 28-year-old ever see a day when the pair are reunited? "Who knows?" Fellaini says. "But at the moment I only think about Man United, and about winning trophies here."
I hope this season we can win something. That's why you play football, to win trophies. We have to keep going. In the Premier League you never know. Every team is close together in the top six, so we'll fight for first place
It's a telling comment, because Fellaini's honours list is sparser than you might imagine, and sparser than he would like. He has amassed more than 60 caps for Belgium, currently the world's No.1 ranked team, and has spent seven years in England with two of the Premier League's most respected clubs. But currently his only major honour still remains the league title he won with Standard Liege back in Belgium.
Manchester United went without a trophy in Fellaini's first two seasons at Old Trafford, something that would have been unthinkable during the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson. The midfielder is determined that run will not stretch to a third campaign, despite enduring a six-match winless run; the club's first since 1998.
"I hope this season we can win something," he says. "That's why you play football, to win trophies. We have to keep going. In the Premier League you never know. Every team is close together in the top six, so we'll fight for first place. We have a lot of games. We have to continue to work together, to stay together. We have to work hard and win games, and then see what happens at the end of the season."
United haven't always convinced this season, their style of play having been widely criticised under Louis van Gaal. But even after consecutive losses they remain in touch with the sides at the top of the table. Fellaini scored at Bournemouth (above) and has started the last four games, after a period as a perennial substitute. Between the September 12 win over Liverpool and the beginning of December, his only two starts both came in the League Cup.
Brothers in barnets
He's not my twin, though, he's my younger brother!
It was not an easy period for a man who had seemed to be flourishing last season, even after Moyes' Old Trafford exit. He started 19 matches last term, one of them at Chelsea when Fellaini's lookalike sibling Mansour – yes he's got the hair, too – befuddled the Blues before kick-off.
"He took some tickets to the hotel that Chelsea were staying at, so they thought I wasn't playing," Fellaini explains.
"The doorman said: 'Fellaini isn't playing'," Jose Mourinho later recalled. "I had Google on my phone and I put in 'Fellaini brother'. The guy is the same. So I go with the pictures to the doorman. I say: 'This one or this one?'."
"He's not my twin, though, he's my younger brother!" Fellaini stresses, clarifying reports that the pair were identical twins.
The manager decides which position I play, and if he needs me I'm there
This season, as Van Gaal's tactics became ever more reliant on slow-paced, methodical passing, some had started to suggest that Fellaini didn't entirely fit with his manager's style of play.
His attributes are based more on strength and physicality, the latter borne out of a history as a promising 10,000m athlete as a youngster. "When I was young I liked to run, and I had the qualities to run," he says. "But it wasn't a difficult decision to choose football. I always played football."
Often Fellaini was starting to be utilised as an emergency striker from the bench, the Plan B rather than part of the Plan A. He has little doubt where he can have the biggest influence. "Midfield; defensively or offensively," he says. "The manager decides which position I play, and if he needs me I'm there."
It's midfield where he has now re-established himself, helped in part by injuries to Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin. But even in the difficult weeks as a substitute, he never lost his belief that United still need a Marouane Fellaini – that he can still play a key role as part of Van Gaal's Plan A.
It's my style, it's me. 've had my hair like this for maybe 10 years, so why would I change it? If people like it, good. If not, no problem. It's my look, I like it, so I keep it
"Of course," he says. "Last season I played nearly every game. This season I've played some games and been on the bench, but I've worked hard to be in the team. I'm happy to be at Man United and I've always trained hard. I want to play because I know I can help the team, that I can be important."
As for the afro, well, Fellaini is used to those questions by now – and the terrace chants, good and bad. "It's my style, it's me," he says. "I've had my hair like this for maybe 10 years, so why would I change it? If people like it, good. If not, no problem. It's my look, I like it, so I keep it."
It's perhaps the certainty with which he gives that final answer which tells you the most. Fellaini may be mild mannered and unassuming – there's a cheery wave for FFT as we depart, in fact. But the Belgian's sense of identity is unswerving, his inner confidence still very much intact.
The road to his first major trophy in English football is still long and arduous. But, even in Fellaini's hushed tones, the quiet man with the big hair has made it clear that he still believes. His desire for success at Manchester United is undiminished.
Marouane Fellaini wears the new Lava/Fireball New Balance Football Visaro boots, designed for players who ‘Make Chances’. Visit newbalance.com/football or follow @NBFootball on Twitter and Instagram