BY SEAN PETER-BUDGE
“People keep asking if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”
Its with the sort of pathos and rasp any voice actor would appreciate that Keanu Reeves’ John Wick, the eponymous hero-slash-hitman in the man who was Neo’s new release, announces his return.
He’s brutal, badass and everything fans of Reeves want to see.
John Wick isn’t Keanu trying to be something he isn’t or can’t be. He’s not delivering thick slabs of monologue or speaking in a ridiculous accent. He doesn’t appear burdened as he ponders some sort of strange existential dilemma of self worth and value.
He’s driving around, cutting up and gunning down anyone who stands in his way. Classic all-action, drag ‘em out, send them to morgue without knowing their name hero stuff.
He’s perfect in the role.
Another hitman who is well on the path to self-(re)discovery is Manchester United midfield enforcer Marouane Fellaini.
Off the back of a truly disastrous first season in red, one curtailed by a cruel concoction of poor form and injury, Fellaini looked destined for an inglorious Old Trafford exit.
There were rumors of a move abroad, something that may or may not have collapsed in the final hours of a frantic deadline day. How close he was to leaving we might never know.
It is impossible to understate how miserable a figure he has cut since his move from Everton.
Out jumped by players six inches shorter than him.
Less poise in front of goal than debutant James Wilson.
Perennially looking as though someone had tied his shoelaces together.
He wandered the pitch troubled by self-sabotage and self-doubt.
His signing concluded a summer in which United had very publicly pursued and flirted with more or less every player who has ever played the game.
Without being disrespectful, his acquisition was underwhelming in that it felt inevitable. He wasn’t – and couldn’t ever be – enough to placate the angst and uncertainty caused by Sir Alex’s departure; for that we needed the sort of transfer window we’ve just seen.
Had he been signed 12-months earlier alongside Robin van Persie, his capture would’ve been hailed as just what we need to wrest back our title.
“Great acquisition. Steel in midfield, the hardman we’ve needed since Roy Keane,” would’ve been the excitement in fan ranks; that Roy Keane statement trademarked by anyone talking about any midfielder signed by United for all eternity.
Why then did football seem like such a foreign concept to him last season? Sure he had to adapt to a new team, but with a familiar manager and league it shouldn’t have been as painful as it was.
On the opening day of this campaign my father, attending his first live game of soccer, remarked upon seeing him play against Swansea, “who’s the doofus with the big hair and terrible feet?”
That was from a novice.
There were groans of palpable frustration cascading from the terraces every time the ball bounced away from his feet or he lacked the courage or conviction to take the game on.
News he’d been injured and would miss games was met with a mere ripple. If he’d lost faith in his own ability he wasn’t alone. His absence, we all assumed, would not be felt.
Even United’s opponents felt it acceptable to mock the Belgian, with West Brom doing just that via Twitter prior to his introduction off the bench.
Their justification of a fairly classless jab was as convincing as an Arsenal title challenge after February. The now famous tweet proved to be one of modern football’s greatest karmic paybacks.
His cameo at the Hawthorns was the first sign that something had changed.
He was the catalyst that night, bullocking and bullying his way across a front line in desperate need of a good old-fashioned target man. He drew attention from defenders, threw himself around and got stuck in.
His goal and the celebration that followed was an explosion of emotion a year in the making. Finally, there was the man we’d signed.
A subtle nudge to win the ball, shifting it onto his right and rifling a magnificent shot that revitalized a sluggish team on the night and his United career.
The response from the fans was particularly memorable and congratulatory, as if to say, ‘well done, go on with it, mate!’
His selection against Chelsea a week later was just reward for a star turn against the Baggies. Satisfyingly, against improved opposition he was arguably better again.
The Invincibles mk II saw the league’s player of the season elect, Cesc Fabregas, blanketed by a man with renewed vigour and a point to prove.
We all know Marouane Fellaini’s quality. At his best his size, strength and determination make him unplayable. The issue was simply where he’d put all that for the past year.
We’ve seen him take games of Premier League football by the scruff of the neck – often first hand. That terrifying, floppy haired wrecking ball loping around the pitch, all elbows and awkward, cutting a path of destruction as he goes.
He hasn’t returned to his halcyon Everton days just yet, it’s far too early to make that statement, but you can see he has a purpose now. Finally he looks comfortable out there. He wants the ball, demands it and fights tooth and nail to get it back.
You can’t say it’s the faith of the manager that has corrected his wayward path, for in David Moyes he could have no greater supporter. Louis Van Gaal has, however, been able to evoke the player we thought we’d signed in the past fortnight, which seemed a task beyond any mortal man just eight weeks prior.
Manchester United fans want Marouane Fellaini to be the player he has been before. We’ve seen him do it so often it isn’t a fluke, so why can’t he do it again?
It’s only three performances, but each could well comprise his finest stretch of form since crossing from the Toffees. Should it continue we could well begin to hear that most ridiculous of football clichés.
“With Fellaini in this sort of form he’s like a new signing.”
More like his old self.