Serie A giants Napoli must regret not signing Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini in the summer.
The Belgian, who many expected to leave Old Trafford after enduring a miserable debut season under the stewardship of David Moyes, was linked with the Italian side before injury then scuppered any chances of a move.
But after transforming his fortunes and becoming a vital part of the side under Moyes’ successor Louis Van Gaal, Rafael Benitez must be appalled at how he allowed one of Europe’s strongest midfielders to slip through his grasp.
Injuries and inconsistencies blighted Fellaini’s first term at the Theatre of Dreams, with the 27-year-old making just 21 appearances for the club as the empire built by Sir Alex Ferguson came crashing down.
Most worrying was the lack of goals or assists from the midfielder who, after being Moyes’ single summer signing, had been charged with the task of adding solidarity and steel to a United side bereft of any creativity despite racing to the Premier League title just mere months earlier.
He started some big games under his former Everton manager but too often looked out of his depth, with his performance during United’s 1-1 draw with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich in the Champions League deemed so bad by Spanish newspaper Marca he was not even assigned a match rating, despite playing the full 90 minutes against the Germans.
Batterings dished out by fierce rivals Manchester City and Liverpool did not help his cause, and gave Napoli hope of striking a deal for his arrival before injury reared its head to keep him in England for the time being.
Fellaini’s resurgence in form has coincided with a positive run of results that have now seen the Red Devils rise to fourth in the Premier League table.
He was at his bruising, powerful best during the 2-1 victory over Arsenal at the weekend, playing a part in both of the goals that saw Arsene Wenger’s side beaten despite dominating for long periods of the game.
The Belgium international also broke his goalscoring duck for the club in emphatic circumstances, cannoning the ball past West Bromwich Albion’s Ben Foster as United snatched a point at the Hawthorns last month.
He now looks a player worthy of wearing the famous red jersey, and could form a partnership with the likes of Michael Carrick and Daley Blind that see the English titans return to the Champions League sooner rather than later.
Benitez has come under fire from Napoli fans for the way his summer signings have struggled to adjust to life in Italy, with Swansea City loanee Michu woefully out of sorts.
Fellaini could have provided the foundations for the likes of Dries Mertens, Marek Hamisk and Gonzalo Higuain to thrive but will instead play a part in one of the most difficult rebuilding jobs of all time under Van Gaal.
The Dutchman will be delighted at the attitude of his midfielder, who could so easily be producing similarly inspiring performances over in Italy had it not been for fate to intervene.
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