Is Fellaini's haircut a problem Manchester United didn't need?
Image: Martin Palazzotto, CC-by-SA 4.0
You've been away to a trade conference for a fortnight. When you left, things weren't going too well at the office. The conference ended on a sour note, as well. You're in a bit of a rut and feel like you need to shake things up to escape it. How is the difficult question?
Then you walk past one of those hipster barber shops. You know, the kind with a clever name, soft lighting, old-fashioned brass and leather chairs, a bar, a billiards table with a 1941 Triumph motorcycle suspended above it, the place staffed by barbers and bartenders who all look like characters out of Miller's Crossing. Yes! A testosterone-injected spa treatment is just the thing. You turn around and go inside. Old-fashioned bells jingle to announce your arrival.
If you're Marouane Fellaini, however, alarm bells should sound. This may not be a good idea.
Manchester United aren't having the best season. Personally, it hasn't been bad for Fellaini. After fans raised a ruckus over his hardball negotiating and Jose Mourinho's insistence the club extend him, he's proven his worth and changed the fans' tune with some impact performances off the bench. Mourinho wanted him, though, because he's a team player. It's about hard work, consistent effort and contributing, not personal accolades, for the Belgian. Thus, he couldn't have been to happy with United sitting a distant eighth in the table when he left for November's international window, having been soundly beaten by City in the Manchester Derby.
Then Belgium were embarrassed 5-2 by Switzerland in Lucerne. Thorgan Hazard gave Fellaini's other Red Devils a 2-0 lead in just more than a quarter-hour but the hosts roared back behind a Haris Seferovic hattrick to guarantee a place in the Nations League semifinals while the World Cup semi-finalists joined that tournament's champions, France, on the sideline.
Back in Manchester four days later, it's understandable the 6' 4" midfielder was having difficulty looking at himself in the mirror. On a normal day, it would be depressing. On your 31st birthday, the need to do something about it would grow exponentially. Maybe all those times he's been called the Belgian chia pet or Super Fly rung in his ears and he felt it was time for a change. Samson and Delilah be damned; what could it hurt?
When the new Fellaini arrived at the AON Training Complex the next morning, Jose Mourinho probably didn't think twice about it unless he was called to the gate by security to verify this wasn't a crazy imposter trying to sneak into the United camp. In 2006, the Special One had no time for American journalists who asked about his new do when Chelsea were in Chicago to play the MLS All-Stars as part of their pre-season US tour.
"It's just a haircut," was all he said.
Fellaini's teammates probably had a good laugh, then a few more every time he ran a hand over his freshly-shorn scalp, unused to the cold breeze reaching his skin.
The consequences of Fellaini's decision only became evident when he was sent on against Crystal Palace, Saturday, on the hour-mark. In the thick of the action, he cut a strange, or more accurately, unfamiliar figure. At 193cm, Fellaini stands out, even without the floppy afro that made women of all ages, from Beyonce to Pam Grier, jealous. When Ashley Young on the left flank, or Romelu Lukaku on the right, is trying to dance away from a defender to find that one instant of space to deliver a cross, though, it's much easier to pick out that wild mop in a crowd with only a nano-second to spare than to process that the strange Middle-Eastern looking fella in the box is, in fact, your teammate rather than a pitch invader in full United kit. Your marker can close you down before your mind gets to 'in fact', causing you to let fly with an errant delivery.
There was far more to blame for United's goalless draw at home against Crystal Palace than Marouane Fellaini's new haircut, starting with the boss' inexplicable substitutions that left a struggling Nemanja Matic and Anthony Martial on the field while the lively Jesse Lingard departed. The United squad will adapt to the new Fellaini in good time. The problem is United have little time and none of it is good.
Changes are needed at United. I can't fault Fellaini for trying to make a difference but this was an even poorer choice than David Beckham's cornrows.