herald

Saturday 21 October 2017

Fellaini: I have 
nothing to prove

Marouane Fellaini bridled at the suggestion that he has taught the world a thing or two about his qualities in the past month, after their devaluation at Manchester United.

"I don't need to prove anything. I played football for eight years as a professional so I don't need to prove (anything)," he said, placing himself above the radar for the first time in this World Cup after something of a self-imposed exile following the traumas of Old Trafford.

MIXED

Fellaini, 26, has been one of the few consistent threads to a Belgian side who have progressed to tonight's quarter-final against Argentina despite mixed form. He held out no clear hope that he would remain at Old Trafford under Louis van Gaal.

"We will see after the World Cup," he said - though with the club ready to move out midfielders at a serious rate of knots, his departure is not a foregone conclusion.

Moments like tonight can be career-affecting for a man at a professional crossroads. There is a genuine feeling in the Belgian ranks that Marc Wilmots' side can beat Argentina and it is hard to avoid the impression Fellaini would love the chance to stick two fingers up to the many who doubted his capacity to play for United.

His sensitivity to the way his reputation has been revised in the last year was never far from the surface as he discussed his team. "I always believed in myself," he insisted.

Kevin de Bruyne, the central midfielder adored by the Belgian nation as the playmaking fulcrum of Wilmots' side, knows a bit about being chewed up and spat out in England, too, after his Chelsea career went south and he found salvation at Wolfsburg. He is still only 22.

It was put to De Bruyne that Romelu Lukaku's resurgence against the United States in the last 16, after a disappointing group stage, had restored faith in the striker.

"Yes, but you know how it goes in football and with media," he said.

"If you play two normal games they say you are shit and then you play one great game and you are the best in the world. You have to look a little bit between the lines."

It will not be straightforward tonight against Lionel Messi. It will be hard not to be mesmerised by the challenge created by the little man.

The Independent columnist Rafael Benitez observed yesterday that having tall players like Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Vincent Kompany and Daniel van Buyten trying to deal with Messi makes it even harder to handle his low centre of gravity and mobility.

But the Belgians' hopes lie in the meagreness of the Argentinian performance against the Swiss, with neither Angel di Maria, Ezequiel Lavezzi nor Gonzalo Higuain managing to play with any degree of intensity.

SHOWED

"They have (the attacking threats)," Wilmots said of Alex Sabella's team.

"But I also saw they showed a lack of balance within the team and that they had problems. If Messi fires there could be trouble. But if you ask me whether I prefer a good collective or one great player, I prefer the team."

Fellaini will vouch for that. There has been an unmistakable desire in the squad to assert what poor use United had made of him, by deploying him as a No 8, not a No 10.

"We will play all together and try to play well," Fellaini reflected. "We are together. I am happy to play for this team. For this country."

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