A contrite Marouane Fellaini will return from suspension for Everton’s visit to Newcastle United on Wednesday, having been told by David Moyes that he should follow Lionel’s Messi example of how to deal with on-pitch provocation.
Fellaini received a three-match ban for head-butting Ryan Shawcross during Everton’s 1-1 draw with Stoke City on December 15. He had been repeatedly jostled by the Stoke captain throughout the game, but his violent response earned him a red card and opprobrium from his manager, who said he was aghast at Fellaini’s behaviour.
The Belgium midfielder has sought to explain his reaction, but that has not prevented Moyes from warning him that not only can he not expect to walk straight into an Everton side who have taken seven points during his enforced absence, he must also learn from his high-profile mistake.
“I am normally an honest player,” Fellaini said. “But my head-butt on Ryan Shawcross was pure frustration, as he had spent the entire game pulling and pushing me. But I shouldn’t have butted him. I exploded and I am sorry for doing so. The punishment I got was deserved.”
“He’ll certainly be back in the squad,” Moyes said. “Whether he comes straight back in, I’ll have a look at it. But we played quite well in his absence and Victor (Anichebe) and Nikica Jelavic have done OK. I felt as if he let us down. But that is in the past now. He has paid his punishment for it and we have as well. I don’t have any concerns about his character overall. He’s actually a really good lad.
“But something he’s going to have to be careful and mindful of is that people are going to pay more attention to him. It’s not as if you can miss him that easily. That’s what I was annoyed with. When you are that easily recognisable and seen, how can you ever think you are going to get away with anything?”
Though Moyes recognises that Fellaini’s stature and distinctive hairstyle mean that he will always stand out, he also believes that the 25-year-old’s emergence as one of the Premier League’s outstanding performers will inevitably result in him receiving greater attention from opponents, some of whom will inevitably resort to foul means to try to stop him.
Rather than offer Fellaini any excuses for retaliating physically against those who attempt to unsettle him, Moyes wants him to use his ability to show that he will not be intimidated and held up Messi, the Barcelona forward, as an example of what he expects. “The best person you have to look at is Messi,” Moyes said.
“Every person targets him, every person tries to kick him and every person tries to stop him, and they’ll do everything. But all he ever does is get up and get on with it. That’s the sign of a top player. It says to people, ‘Whatever you do, it doesn’t affect me.’
“The best in the world is Lionel Messi, who gets physically attacked every game by people trying to stop him, but he keeps doing what he’s doing. I tell Felli that you just have to get on with it. If I was playing against Felli, I’d try and wind him up. That’s what happens with good players.”
This season, Fellaini indicated that he may not see out his Everton contract and there were even reports in the Belgian media that he was considering leaving as early as January.