x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fellaini the son shines at Everton

Gabriele Marcotti Sport is littered with fathers who believe. Fathers who see in their children what might be and - crucially - what wasn't in their own lives.

Gabriele Marcotti reveals the passion that drove a father Sport is littered with fathers who believe: Richard Williams, Earl Woods, Frank Lampard Sr. Fathers who see in their children what might be and - crucially - what wasn't in their own lives. Abdellatif Fellaini had the tools to become a top goalkeeper. After all, hadn't Raja Casablanca, arguably the biggest club in Africa, signed him in the prime of his career, with the promise of a glittering future?

Once there, he was told he would have to be patient. You can only play one goalkeeper at a time, they told him, your moment will come. When it didn't, Abdellatif walked out. He moved to Belgium intent on making it on his own. But when Raja wouldn't release his registration, he was left in a bureaucratic nightmare, unable to sign with the Belgian sides who had shown interest. Rather than returning, he packed it in. He took a job as a bus driver in Brussels. Football became something to do on Sunday mornings. Until 1987, when his son Marouane was born.

Abdellatif became determined that Marouane would have every chance of fulfilling it. From a young age, he taught his son every secret he could muster. He worked nights and overtime to raise the funds to enrol Marouane in private football schools as a toddler and, at age of seven, took him to Anderlecht's academy. Father and son seemed attached at the hip. And, usually, some kind of training was involved. Marouane would run to school every morning, Abdellatif following on a bicycle, with a stopwatch.

Every night Marouane would take shooting practice, Abdellatif keeping goal and showing no mercy. By his early teens he was bigger and stronger than teammates and opponents, he dominated matches, not least because Abdellatif made it clear he must never be "a gentle giant". No, Marouane would grow into his body, proud of his size and who he was: a process helped along by playing against kids who were older, bigger and tougher. It's not surprising then that, by the time he made his professional debut for Standard Liege, a few months shy of his 19th birthday, he was already more than comfortable.

His huge frame - 6ft 4in and 13st 5lb - moved across the pitch under the watchful eye of Abdellatif, always at his son's side. Last summer, he moved to Everton for US$25million (Dh91.8m), a record for a Belgian footballer and an Everton transfer. Everything about him spoke to the issue of size: the fee, his own proportions and, of course, his signature hairstyle. here clearly was going to be nowhere to hide, he would sink or swim at Goodison.

This afternoon, he mixes it with one the Premier League's biggest, most physical sides as Everton host Stoke City. But then this is no different from those nights when Abdellatif would tower over him in a makeshift goal and dare him to get the ball past his old dad. gmarcotti@thenational.ae