19 Midfielder Manchester United Belgium
2014 has been…
Since Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement as Manchester United manager and actually followed through with it this time, things have been tough for Manchester United. Much like quantifying the benefit of a truly special goalkeeper, his effect on the Man Utd players and the amount of points that his presence as manager will have translated to each season can never really be measured.
However, it is clear that Ferguson is missed around the club. He is too old to be considered for a return but with the squad he left behind struggling to replicate their form of two seasons ago, fans of the Red Devils have been desperate for positives to cling to.
Adnan Januzaj is that positive and it may be for that very reason that his career is ultimately seen in a very different light by the Old Trafford faithful. Januzaj represent s a ray of light in the sea of tormented darkness and it could mean that unwarranted pressure is piled on to the young Belgian international.
It was October last year that Adnan announced himself on the footballing world with two delicious goals against Sunderland in the Premier League. Having been part of the first team squad since Sir Alex’s last few days with the club, it was David Moyes that gave Adnan his debut for the club in last year’s Community Shield. Januzaj started to produce performances that gave United fans hope to grab onto as they slipped further and further from the top four.
Januzaj’s break-through into the team at such a tender age drew many comparisons between the young winger and the talented players that had gone before him. David Moyes has likened his potential at such a tender age with that of the now Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney, who himself managed to burst onto the scene in the Premier League with a scrumptious effort against Arsenal.
Such was Adnan’s meteoric rise for United, the Belgian born player with both Albanian and Kosovan heritage became the subject of an international tug of war. There was even a ridiculous suggestion that he might hang around twiddling his thumbs for five years until he qualified for English residency.
The matter was settled in April after Adnan and his family had taken some time to consider the decision. It’s rumoured that he felt an affinity with Kosovo before electing to go with the nation of his birth. His international debut came less than a week before the World Cup kicked off, having been named in Marc Wilmots’ final 23-man squad without actually representing the senior team in any way.
This season has been tougher for the tasty winger. A new manager, an initial change to a much narrower system, a wave of expensive signings and a lack of competitions to compete in have combined to work against Januzaj and his prospects; even though some United fans are desperate to see him in every starting eleven.
He has had the legendary number 11 shirt bestowed upon him following the retirement of Ryan Giggs. Luckily for the winger, he has got the man himself working with him on the training field to help nurture his talent and relieve the pressure of wearing what is now an iconic shirt thanks to the exploits of Giggs’ 23 glittering years at Manchester United.
It’s clear that having Giggs working with him is useful. Adnan has likened the United legend to his ‘godfather’: “Ryan has helped me a lot and is like a godfather. He has told me to work hard on the training pitch and the rest is more personal. We talk about football a lot.”
We do worry the weight of his new shirt number may be too heavy on his young back as he appears very aware of the heritage of the club despite only joining three years ago. He has looked desperate to make an impact in all of his appearance so far this season, although that can just as easily explained by the lack of minutes in 2014/15 so far.
Cristiano Ronaldo took some time to get into a regular groove within English football and had a reputation for being too delicate. As well as matching Ronaldo’s debut season total of four goals in the Premier League, Adnan has developed an unwanted habit of going down far too easily. Since returning from the World Cup, he has made it clear that he is trying to bulk up much like the Portuguese superstar so he can get through the “special treatment” he is set to receive.
There has been some debate as to whether Januzaj has actually warranted a place in Louis Van Gaal's new-look Manchester United. The 19-year-old has started to feature regularly in recent games but the opening weeks of the Van Gaal era saw the former Dutch national team manager favour the new signings, Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata in midfield.
Adnan’s stalled development can be likened to that of Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling; even if the fans of both clubs are still engaged in a war of words over who is the better prospect. After an initial flurry, Sterling’s growth appeared to stop. His exciting play saw him used more than he could manage and his level of performance dropped. Some time away from the Reds first team and a dedication to working on his skills in training has seen him return as one of Liverpool’s leading lights and forced his way into the England team.
Such a plan for the young Belgian would be greatly received by the Manchester United fans even if the short terms consequences of Januzaj spending even more time in the under-21s would only cause to louden the calls by some critics of the club that it has lost its soul thanks to a lavish summer of spending.
There is an obvious desire in all corners of Old Trafford to protect and nurture the prodigious talent of Adnan Januzaj. If he forced to continually play, much like he was used during 2013/14 by a manager struggling for fan support then the long-term success of his career will be compromised. With careful management he can become a regular goal threat for United and prove the club remain keen to promote from within their youth system.
All signs that we can find indicate he has a great attitude and is responding to his current struggles by simply working harder in training. That should eventually lead to him becoming the best player that he can be, especially if he manages to learn just one new thing from each of the exceptional players that he trains with on a daily basis.
Dedicated effort on the training pitch under the guidance of Van Gaal, Giggs, the coaching team and the senior players in the squad should see Januzaj etch his name in United folklore alongside his predecessor for the number 11 shirt.
"Adnan Januzaj has not sparkled for club or country in recent months. But he’s a teenager who can develop into a genuine world-class no. 10." - John Chapman
"Januzaj was booked three times for simulation last season in the Premier League; more than any other player in the division." - OptaJoe
C+ Everyone knows what to expect, so surprise them
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