The Manchester United Youngster Destined to be a “Might Have Been”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21: Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on December 21, 2013 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Manchester United youngster Adnan Januzaj burst onto the Premier League scene three years ago. His goals, assists and overall performances made fans believe that another great player was about to grace Old Trafford and the world of football for years to come. Since his initial impressive spell under David Moyes at United, however, the young Belgian has failed to improve. His talent is unquestionable, his attitude unfortunately is. Can this talented forward fulfil his potential or will he become another of football’s “what ifs”?

The beginning

Born in Brussels, Januzaj began his career at his local side FC Brussels. At just 10 years of age, he moved on to Belgian giants Anderlecht. Six years later, while participating in a soccer skills session in Brussels,  he caught the eye of Manchester United. Under the guidance of Alex Ferguson, Januzaj quickly progressed and soon found himself in the first team squad. It wasn’t until Ferguson left that he made a name for himself at Old Trafford.

When David Moyes took over at United, Januzaj was given his chance. He did not disappoint. He produced some excellent performances and goals and even though he had played just 10 games, he was nominated for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award. His future at this point was looking bright. United, aware that others were taking notice, tied the player to the club by giving him a new five-year contract. Many at United believed they could have found the next Ryan Giggs.

Even though Januzaj was impressing, he was also gaining a reputation for diving. On several occasions he was accused of going to ground easily. This also resulted in three yellow cards. Regardless, he had shown with enough regularity that he had the potential to dominate world football for years to come.

Struggle begins

When David Moyes left and Luis van Gaal took over, there was little to suggest that Januzaj would do anything but improve. He was even allocated the famous number 11 shirt previously worn by United legend Ryan Giggs. Unfortunately, he began to struggle. Teams and particularly defenders were much more physical with him and the slightly-built forward struggled. His form was inconsistent and he failed to score in the 2014/15 season.

The beginning of the next season began with the Belgian failing to make the bench. When he did finally play, he scored his first goal in over a year to give United a victory over Aston Villa. This was not enough though to convince new manager van Gaal that he could fit into United’s first team. The decision was made to send the youngster out on loan.

Borussia Dortmund

During August 2015, Januzaj completed a year-long loan move to German giants Borussia Dortmund. This was his chance to show once again that he could play at the top level. His chance came and went. He started just six times for Dortmund. The Belgian starlet was criticised by head coach Thomas Tuchel: 

“It is a pity he did not show the desire and attitude you need to progress at his age. My feeling was that he never was completely with us, that a part of him always stayed in Manchester and he compared everything here with United. We were not able to help him to shake that off.”

It was agreed in January 2016 that the loan deal should be terminated. His second chance had gone. Januzaj played under 20 first team minutes during the remainder of the season on his return to United.

Sunderland

When David Moyes took charge at the Stadium of Light last summer, it was obvious to many that he could raid his old club United for new recruits. Moyes believed his new team needed more creativity and he turned his attention to the young man who performed so well for him during his short time in charge at Manchester United. Januzaj agreed to a one-year loan deal. This was chance to put the Dortmund disappointment behind him and show that he could be the player many predicted.

Januzaj began well on Wearside, with supporters enjoying his skillful attacking play.At this stage the future was beginning to look bright once more, but as the team began to struggle at the foot of the Premier League table, his form dipped.

His talent is unquestionable, unfortunately in far too many games, he was largely anonymous. He fleeted in and out of the game but produced one or two bits of magic that could result in a chance or a goal. These bits of magic were not happening often enough for him to create consistent chances for main forward Jermain Defoe. Those fans who were singing his name earlier in the season were now showing their frustration at a player who just did not look up for the fight.

Where next?

Manchester United manager José Mourinho has indicated he would be willing to listen to offers for the youngster. How much United want for the player may depend on where he ends up. With two unsuccessful spells behind him and criticism from managers and fans, clubs maybe reluctant to spend millions based on the performances and exciting potential he showed a few short years ago. The silver lining for Januzaj is that, at 22 years old, time is still on his side.

If he is to avoid being one of football’s wasted talents, or even a luxury few can afford to have, he must soon take one of the chances presented to him.

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