Adnan Januzaj was an unused substitute in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match as United manager and whilst the young Belgian did not make it onto the pitch, his inclusion in the match day squad was a subtle hint from Fergie as to where he believed the future of the club lay. His name is one that many may not have been familiar with before the season began but he has quickly acquired the poisoned chalice of being labelled as ‘the next big thing’ at Old Trafford. Whether he can make as much of an impact as an 18-year-old from Portugal, born exactly ten years before him, time will tell.
Unlike Ronaldo, Januzaj did not make a big money move to England, having left Anderlecht to join United as a 16-year-old in 2011 for a nominal fee. He progressed through the club’s youth system and his performances on the club’s pre-season tour this summer led to his inclusion in the first team squad. Known for his creative abilities, he possesses an abundance of attacking flair and likes to run directly at defenders. He impressed in his home league debut for the club against Crystal Palace and followed this up with substitute appearances against Liverpool and most recently West Brom.
With question marks over the fragility of United’s wingers, it would appear that Januzaj may be fast tracked into a regular starting berth. Whilst Ashley Young’s stock is falling rapidly with the fans, if not yet Moyes, Januzaj’s star is on an upward curve. Moyes said recently of Januzaj, “We really think an awful lot of him…it is part of my remit to promote young players and Adnan has been promoted already. The next part is to become a regular first-team player.” All the signs would suggest that Januzaj has a big future ahead of him at Old Trafford.
With a promising career ahead of him many have began to wonder why Januzaj has not yet put pen to paper to a new contract. His contract expires at the end of this season and there have been rumours that Manchester City and Juventus are interested in whisking him away from United by offering a bumper deal. The thought of the player moving to either club would be a sickening blow for United fans. Many will recall the protracted stalling and posturing over a new deal for Paul Pogba, one of United’s brightest talents at the time, which concluded with a move to Juventus. Moyes will no doubt be desperate to avoid a repeat scenario and look to appease the fans after the recent transfer window debacle. He has made it clear that he believes the player is better placed to progress his career by staying with United, “We think this is the best place for producing and giving young players an opportunity. We think we do it better than anybody. I do it, maybe not as well as my predecessor, but at Everton we always put young players in the team when we thought the time was right. It is what we want.”
Moyes has stated that Januzaj “is keen to stay, but he has some influences round him.” This sounds like a thinly veiled swipe at the player’s agent. Loyalty is not a word closely associated with football these days and whether or not the player is holding out for a better offer remains to be seen. If he does decide to move on, questions must be asked about United’s future ambition and their commitment to promoting young talent. Players like Januzaj and Zaha, who hasn’t played a minute since the Community Shield, are precocious talents who can only improve with first team football. It takes a brave manager to dispense of tried and tested players, but the last time United did just that they went on to enjoy great success with the ‘kids’, contrary to opinion at the time.
In his league debut against Crystal Palace Januzaj came on to replace Young and where the latter looked tired and ineffectual, Januzaj provided verve and excitement. Above all he demanded the ball and tried to influence the game, playing with a confidence above his years. If Moyes is true to his word then it would appear that there has never been a better time for Januzaj to gain a regular first team berth. It takes a special player to hold down a starting role at such a young age, but Januzaj has shown enough potential to warrant further first team action. If anything else, regular football may sway his decision over whether to sign a new contract at Old Trafford. He is certainly one player that United should be doing all they can to keep a hold of.
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