He’s the next this, the next that, the new Pele, the next Maradona. We hear it all the time, youngsters being billed as the heir apparent to the greatest footballers in history. At times the prophecies do come true, take Lionel Messi for example, but more often than not promising young footballers struggle to live up to their unfair billing and fall by the wayside. Casing point – Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj.
He’s not the first and he certainly won’t be the last and at just 22 years of age he should still have the best years of his career ahead of him. But if he doesn’t begin to deliver on his vast potential soon he could find himself consigned to the football scrapheap, bracketed with the likes of Freddie Adu, Nii Lamptey and Denilson, once the most expensive player in the world, as the nearly men of the game. One thing appears certain however, that is the likelihood that he will have to resurrect his stalling career away from Old Trafford.
New Kid On The Block
After Sir Alex Ferguson shocked the footballing world in 2013 by walking away from Manchester United Football Club having just led them to a 13th Premier League title, his successor David Moyes faced the daunting and sizeable job of rebuilding and refreshing an aging squad. With Moyes’ fellow ex-Evertonian Marouane Fellaini the only new arrival in the summer, Januzaj made his debut as a late substitute in the Community Shield before seizing his opportunity and marking his first start in the Premier League with a brace of goals to secure United three points away at Sunderland.
He looked the real deal and to ward off reputed interest in him from Barcelona and Real Madrid, United boss Moyes tied the youngster to a new five-year contract worth a reported £30,000, a 3,000% salary increase. Not bad for an 18-year-old eh? Having arrived two years earlier from Anderlecht with whom he had spent 10 years learning his trade, Januzaj was by now hot property and had nations including Belgium, Albania, Serbia, Turkey and England, via a potential five-year residency qualification, falling over themselves to persuade him to commit his international allegiance to them.
He went on to make 35 appearances in total for the first team that season, scoring two further goals and showing enough potential to give United supporters just reason to believe that the club had unearthed another in a long line of young jewels. However, towards the end of the campaign, Januzaj developed something of an unenviable reputation for diving and on three separate occasions found himself cautioned for simulation as United ended the season a disappointing seventh, costing Moyes his job in the process.
Too Much Too Soon?
Despite inheriting United legend Ryan Giggs’ famous number 11 shirt upon Louis van Gaal’s arrival at the club in the summer and experiencing the dramas of a World cup campaign having opted to represent Marc Wilmots’ Belgium, the 2014/15 season proved a disappointing one for Januzaj both personally and collectively as he struggled for form and consistency with United finishing the campaign 17 points behind Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in fourth place.
A less than auspicious four months on loan and just three starts in 12 matches at Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund followed before Januzaj was sent back to Old Trafford in January 2016 where van Gaal, who had warned his young winger of the difficulties facing him at the German giants, rarely called upon his talents at all. Januzaj, with his stock having fallen almost to rock bottom following two seasons of almost anonymity found himself loaned out again last season, as van Gaal’s successor Mourinho allowed him a reunion with former manager Moyes at Sunderland. A disastrous campaign ensued with Januzaj completely uninspiring in a poor team which saw the Black Cats relegated to the Championship with a whimper in April.
Buying into the widely-held notion that today’s young footballers benefit from too much too soon, former Manchester United reserve team manager Warren Joyce asserted as much when he criticised Januzaj, forward James Wilson and ex-United starlet Federico Macheda for lacking the desire to work hard to forge successful careers for themselves, telling the Manchester Evening News in January 2017: “The frustrating thing is seeing ones like Januzaj, Wilson or Macheda get up to that level and stop doing the work they did to get them to that level.”
Time To Say Goodbye, For Now At Least
With Januzaj seemingly set for a permanent move away from Manchester, Basque club Real Sociedad are showing strong interest, the young man born in Brussels to Kosovar-Albanian parents looks set for a spell out of the English media spotlight. If he completes a move to La Liga he will undoubtedly come up against players of the stature of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, all players who like Januzaj were touted as the real deal from a very early age. Perhaps being in the company of others who have experienced the pressure of playing for massive clubs at young ages and excelled will prompt him to take control of his stalled career.
If he does end up in Spain he will also hope that Eusebio Sacristan, Sociedad’s head coach and former Barcelona star can offer him an experienced and steady guiding hand, something he missed out on at United following Sir Alex’s departure and the club’s subsequent managerial merry-go-round. United will more than likely insert a buy-back clause in any deal for his departure as they did when Memphis Depay departed for Lyon in January. If Januzaj can rebuild his reputation and resurrect his career, he could well find himself back gracing the Old Trafford turf one day entertaining those fans who expected so much from him just a few years ago. And if he does, he would do well to advise any up-and-coming stars of tomorrow about Gary Neville’s second of 14 rules listed in every United youth team dressing room: “Give 100 percent all the time. You have never arrived at Man United.”
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Chris qualified from the University of Brighton in 2007 with a degree in Sports Journalism and is a sports fanatic, spending pretty much all of his money following the Welsh national football team all over Europe (and yes spending five weeks on tour with Wales in France at Euro 2016). He has written for numerous websites and has two fully published football biographies to his name. Chris also enjoys rugby union, cycling and politics and enjoys a regular (okay daily!) punt on football.