Marouane Fellaini was expected to be one of the first players out the door when Jose Mourinho was appointed manager of Manchester United last summer.
The much-maligned Belgian midfielder had endured three tough seasons at Old Trafford and his unconvincing performances had failed to convince the United supporters that he was good enough to play for their club.
However, to the surprise of just about everybody, Mourinho decided to give Fellaini a fair crack of the whip. A chance to prove he was good enough to play for one of the world’s best football teams.
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Fellaini impressed in his first few appearances under his new manager.
Asked to explain his apparent transformation, Mourinho told reporters, per the Mirror: "Maybe a simple phone call can make a difference.
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"[He was] a player that was feeling not loved. A player that when the season and the market opened, everybody was saying he was leaving and was not a player for me.
"But maybe a simple phone call the day after my presentation as Manchester United manager changed a lot because I told him 'forget everything you read, for me you don’t leave, for sure'.
"Then I think the more organised the team play, the easier for the players it is to feel confident. He's playing well, with [Michael] Carrick, with [Ander] Herrera, with Paul [Pogba].
"I think he's full of confidence, but I have so many good players.”
Fellaini has changed (some) fans' opinions this season
Fellaini didn’t manage to sustain that level of performance throughout the season, but the fact United fans didn’t bat an eyelid when he was named in Mourinho’s starting line-up for Wednesday night’s Europa League final against Ajax says an awful lot.
While many United supporters would still argue Fellaini isn’t a ‘Manchester United player’, even more would argue that he’s a decent squad player.
He offers United a useful Plan B, does whatever Mourinho asks of him, and pops up with the odd crucial goal from time to time.
Fellaini set a Europa League record v Ajax
Fellaini produced an effective performance at the Friends Arena on Wednesday night and, in the process, set an impressive new Europa League record.
According to Opta, Fellaini won 15 aerial duels against the Dutch outfit, a new record high in a Europa League match since the tournament was branded from the UEFA Cup in 2009.
Does this mean United spent the night flinging long balls up to Fellaini?
It does, according to Ajax midfielder Lasse Schöne, who is quoted as saying: “I like to play football, Manchester United absolutely don’t. They spam long balls forward to Fellaini and hope for the best.”
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