Marouane Fellaini, a big fella in Belgian football
On November 22, 1987, a boy was born in Etterbeek. Little did his parents know that he would go on to be one of the giants (pun intended) of Belgium’s so-called golden generation of footballers. His name? Marouane Fellaini.
Fellaini, who towers over practically everyone at 1 metre 94, was consumed by football from the start. It was in his genes, after all: his father Abdellatif defended the nets of Londerzeel and Tanger among other squads.
Big Fella, as he’s affectionately known, was taught the tricks of the trade in RSC Anderlecht’s youth programme, but when they wanted him to play in provincial rather than national divisions, Fellaini played for several teams in the Walloon province of Hainaut before ending up at Standard de Liège, where he would sign his first pro contract.
The tall midfielder with the iconic hairstyle debuted at Standard in the 2006-2007 season, together with two other members of the golden generation of Red Devils, Axel Witsel and Steven Defour. He quickly garnered interest from several Premier League teams and almost left the club after a season. Eventually, he stayed on another year, Standard became national champions, and Fellaini won the coveted Ebony Shoe, which is awarded to the best player from Africa or of African origin in the Belgian Pro League.
But the Premier League was calling, and so began Marouane’s career in England, first at Everton, then at the legendary Manchester United.
In the meantime, he also became an unmissable part of the Belgian Red Devils. His first cap was under René Vandereycken in February 2007, playing a full 90 minutes. It was the first of 97 selections spanning 12 years and 18 goals for Belgium. He’s been to the Olympics, two World Cups and a European Cup with the national squad.
Big Fella was not his only nickname, by the way. His unique aesthetic made people call him things like The Perminator and Hairo. Another, due to a vague resemblance to the late actor Dustin Diamond, was Screech (Diamond’s character on the show Saved by the Bell).
But that’s neither here nor there. Fellaini ended his interland career in 2019 and kept playing at club level. After Manchester, the lovable Etterbeekan signed with Chinese club Shandong Taishan. After his contract ran out, he announced to the world in February 2024 that he was calling it quits.
In an Instagram post about his retirement, he wrote, “What an incredible journey it has been!” Well, Big Fella, we wholeheartedly agree.