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Manchester United should keep Fellaini - but only as a plan B

With Manchester United chasing a result against Arsenal on Sunday, Jose Mourinho turned to Marouane Fellaini to get the job done. The Belgian delivered, with his injury-time header sealing the three points and ensuring that Arsene Wenger bowed out with a defeat in his final visit to Old Trafford.

For all the criticism that Fellaini receives - from his own fans as much as from those outside the club - he has proven time and again to be the man for the big occasion.

Last season he scored a vital goal in the Europa League semi-final on the way to United winning the competition, which secured Champions League football for this campaign.

The season before he scored in the 2-1 win over West Ham in the FA Cup quarter-final, before bagging a goal at Wembley in the 2-1 win over Everton in the semi-final, again, on the way to United winning the competition. The season before that he scored in United’s wins over Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet it’s still hard to think of another player who has been as bad as Fellaini has been for large chunks of his United career. While he’s improved as time has gone by, particularly since Jose Mourinho became manager, it’s remarkable that a player who was as poor as him in his first season has gone on to play 154 games for the club.

A few weeks ago, it looked as though this campaign would be his last for United, with the Belgian failing to put pen to paper on the contract that was offered to him.

Mourinho has been keen to extend his deal but has revealed on numerous occasions that he was worried Fellaini would leave, despite his wishes.

“I told him yesterday: ‘Sign the contract and shut up,’” he revealed in February. “I told him: ‘Don’t gamble too much.’”

With Fellaini able to leave on a free transfer, he could demand a large salary and a lengthier contract than United are prepared to offer him. 

While some United fans couldn’t wait to see the back of him, there are still those who would be happy to have him in the squad - albeit not as somone used as regularly in the starting XI as he has been under Mourinho thus far.

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Sunday exhibited perfectly the role Fellaini should play. The more talented midfielders should start, hopefully with a new top-class addition joining in the summer, while Fellaini can be used as a sub when United are desperate for a goal, or in the cup competitions to give the preferred players a rest.

It’s hard not to have some sympathy for Fellaini, a player who will forever be associated with the failure of David Moyes' tenure. It doesn’t matter how well he plays or how many important goals he scores.

The matchgoing crowd have largely been on his side in the last season or two, though. His name is sung more often than he is booed, which is a stark difference to his early days at the club. Those same songs were heard on Sunday afternoon, as Fellaini wheeled away grabbing the United badge on his shirt.

"I think a player that grabs the crest after scoring is telling clearly that he wants to stay," Mourinho said after the game. "I want him to stay, the club wants him to stay. I think he will stay, it is nearly there. He’s a good player and he can be used in many different circumstances, according to the nature of the game. That’s why we want him to stay and that’s why I believe that he is going to stay.”

This is quite the turnaround, even from reports just a week or so ago that claimed it was almost certain he would leave Old Trafford in the summer.

Fellaini is a player worth keeping around, but only if Mourinho can use him more sensibly than he has done before now. He’s a good option to have, but that’s all he should be: a plan B.

"It is always good to score at Old Trafford, a late goal in a special atmosphere against a good team and we have the three points which is the most important thing,” Fellaini said after the win over Arsenal. “We must continue in the next few games to be ready for the final as it is important to stay fit, to play and to get ready because it is a big game."

United fans will be hoping to see Fellaini coming off the bench at Wembley against Chelsea in a few weeks' time, ideally when the team are ahead and Mourinho wants to send someone on to get stuck in and launch the ball at. But that’s about as far as the appreciation goes.

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