sport news Marouane Fellaini departs for China with plenty of respect

Like the slow-burner action movie or the novel impenetrable for the first 100 pages, it took quite some time to properly make sense of Marouane Fellaini.

Gangly, gauche, fuzzy-haired, all flailing limbs and sharpened elbows, the Belgian was, at face value, the complete antithesis of a footballer.

A paradox, too, because although Fellaini became something of a totem for United's decline post-Sir Alex Ferguson, he became in the end indispensable to the first three managers unfortunate enough to succeed the great Scot.

(Left to right) Marouane Fellaini's agent Karim Mejjati, Fellaini, his brother Hamza and lawyer Stijn Debaenewere featured in the Instagram snap on Thursday as they fly to China

(Left to right) Marouane Fellaini's agent Karim Mejjati, Fellaini, his brother Hamza and lawyer Stijn Debaenewere featured in the Instagram snap on Thursday as they fly to China

Fellaini, who has barely featured under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is set to join Shandong Luneng

Fellaini, who has barely featured under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is set to join Shandong Luneng

It was back on deadline day in 2013 that David Moyes made Fellaini his first signing at United

It was back on deadline day in 2013 that David Moyes made Fellaini his first signing at United

He had already won the admiration of David Moyes when he became something of a desperation deadline day signing from Everton in the summer of 2013 after United missed out on Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera.

Following his appointment in 2014, Louis van Gaal told Fellaini he was 'not my first choice, not my second, nor my third' yet the utility man soon won the Dutchman over to become a regular.

And in Jose Mourinho's first season, Fellaini actually made more appearances than ever before and would end up playing the entirety of the Europa League final win that returned United to the Champions League.

Yet it isn't really a surprise that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in seeking to restore the standards of Ferguson's time to Old Trafford, has jettisoned the 31-year-old, who is now bound for Chinese club Shandong Luneng for £10.4million.

Fellaini always divided opinion among the Old Trafford faithful but was largely the victim of circumstances and misapprehensions that were no fault of his own.

Jose Mourinho prepares to launch Fellaini into another salvage mission at Brighton in August

Jose Mourinho prepares to launch Fellaini into another salvage mission at Brighton in August

Mourinho certainly appreciated Fellaini and his awkward ways more than most people

Mourinho certainly appreciated Fellaini and his awkward ways more than most people

The Belgian midfield menace gets to grips with Matteo Guendouzi's hair against Arsenal

The Belgian midfield menace gets to grips with Matteo Guendouzi's hair against Arsenal

It wasn't Fellaini's fault that he was an eleventh-hour deadline day arrival - and an expensive one at £27.5m when Everton dug their heels in - after Ed Woodward's bungling in the market saw United miss all their primary targets.

That seemed to get him off on the wrong foot with fans, who saw his signing as seriously underwhelming. His inadequacy for the United shirt seemed to be confirmed when he was outclassed by Yaya Toure in a 4-1 derby drubbing at City.

When Moyes departed after just nine months and United finished down in seventh, Fellaini unwittingly became the symbol of United's brutal reality check post-Fergie.

And it wasn't Fellaini's fault that he was used for some time as United's shameless Plan B or even Plan C when the going got a bit tough.

Summoned from the bench for yet another salvage mission with United trailing, Fellaini's sole instruction was to trigger chaos and confusion.

Fellaini fires through a number of defenders to score a late winner against Young Boys

Fellaini fires through a number of defenders to score a late winner against Young Boys

He was usually introduced from the bench to generate chaos and confusion in midfield

He was usually introduced from the bench to generate chaos and confusion in midfield

Aerial challenges would often be accompanied by an elbow or a kick, such as in this picture

Aerial challenges would often be accompanied by an elbow or a kick, such as in this picture

Fellaini at Man United 

David Moyes/Ryan Giggs (caretaker)

2013-2014 21 games, 0 goals

Louis van Gaal

2014-2015 31 games, 7 goals

2015-2016 34 games, 4 goals

Won FA Cup

Jose Mourinho

2016-2017 47 games, 4 goals

Won and Europa League

2017-2018 23 games, 5 goals

Jose Mourinho/Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (interim)

2018-2019 21 games, 2 goals

Whether used in his familiar midfield position or as an auxillary striker or defender, Fellaini would willingly throw his weight around, swing his arms about and make things awkward for a tiring opposition. Often, it worked as well.

He was successful because he was so different to the slick, creative, tactically astute modern midfielder that rivals didn't quite know how to deal with him.

As Wayne Rooney pointed out, Fellaini was 'the best in the world at what he does.' 

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, a regular rival, just said: 'He's horrible'.

While United purists squealed with disgust, those in the know behind the scenes came to admire Fellaini's professionalism in training, his extra hours in the gym, his loyalty to managers and his dedication to the cause.

In truth, his Old Trafford exit has been some years in the making but his loyalty to managers on a hiding to nothing like Mourinho has delayed it until now.

Defending effectively against the 6ft 4in fuzzy-haired Belgian was often pretty impossible

Defending effectively against the 6ft 4in fuzzy-haired Belgian was often pretty impossible

A novel approach to heading the ball demonstrated by Fellaini against Newcastle United

A novel approach to heading the ball demonstrated by Fellaini against Newcastle United

He was often ridiculed but Fellaini leaves Old Trafford having earned the fans' respect

He was often ridiculed but Fellaini leaves Old Trafford having earned the fans' respect

Fellaini leaves Old Trafford with

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