In what was a completely forgetful 2013/14 for Manchester United, there was still something to shout about with optimism for the fans, besides the 27 seconds after Patrice Evra’s goal against Bayern Munich in Germany. Something about a boy who could do anything. Adnan Januzaj is a classic case of a young and skinny footballer blessed with a boatload of potential, bursting onto the scene only to go missing for large periods after all the form settles down. His two goals on his debut against Sunderland, the first showcased his ability to anticipate things and getting into a good position while the second and the winning goal kind of justified all the buzz about him in and around Manchester, a perfectly executed volley into the bottom corner, keeping Moyes at the helm for a few more months.
Most of the players around him were so poor that season, in that United were at one point relying on an 18-year old to deliver the goods week in week out to win football matches. A string of notable games from the Belgian and the fear of losing another future star to Juventus for peanuts in the form of compensation, a five year contract with a massive pay-rise was offered and the future looked to be secured and exciting. With Van Gaal in charge of things now and Champions League football back in Old Trafford, the future is definitely going to be exciting. But for Adnan, is it secured?
It is quite shocking when you realise Adnan, Manchester United’s best outfield player in 2013/14 by all accounts, has made just 21 appearances across three competitions, worse when only seven of them were starts (in the league). As Louis Van Gaal flirted with formations and lineups before stumbling upon a reasonably successful 4-3-3 – with Juan Mata and Ashley Young providing the necessary goals and assists from wide areas, the Belgian #11, was left on the bench for most of the season, raising questions regarding his future. Whether or not the glamour and expectation that came with the #11 shirt added to the hype that surrounded him is a different conversation, but what can be inferred is the fact that his performances were not up to the level that was expected of him, when he did get them chances.
Under Van Gaal, Adnan found himself as part of an experiment in a variety of areas across midfield whilst he’s familiar with playing in most, thanks to the number of games he’s had at the U21’s level under Warren Joyce, his performances were still seemingly inconsistent if not entirely dull. In 2014/15, the Belgian 20-year old has managed to create a paltry 15 chances from open play in 18 appearances where he would last the whole 90 mins only 4 times. With no goals or assists as opposed to 7 (goals + assists) he was a part of in the previous campaign under the Scot, the drop in the direct impact Januzaj had on the team has faded at an alarming pace. His low confidence levels is evident from the sharp decline in his shot accuracy from 43% to 28%, making him less dangerous in front of goal when compared to the likes of Juan Mata (50%) and fellow Belgian Marouane Fellaini (57%) giving Van Gaal enough reasons to look for alternatives in the squad.
With the pre-season fast approaching, it’s up to Adnan now to force himself back into the manager’s plans for the season ahead. The competition for places is now even fiercer than it was, especially in the wide areas where Manchester United are known to possess exciting talents, beating men and getting people off their seats, for generations now. Although, a season-long loan move to any of the mid-table Premier League teams would do no harm and with Everton keeping tabs with the situation, it’s not all doom and gloom for the 20-year old. Roberto Martinez made no secret about his admiration for Januzaj:
“The Belgium FA put in a very strong plan 10 years ago and developed a way of developing players in a 4-2-3-1 system that gave players a really strong technical education. Then they have shown the right mentality. They are capable of moving abroad at a young age and finding the way to be important for the team. They are really strong performers and that combination of that program form the Belgian FA and the mentality of that generation has created an exceptional group of players who are going to be hugely successful at international level. As individuals they are great to work with, they are fighters and know how to find a way to be effective for the team but always in a professional way.”
Having witnessed the resurrection of best mate Fellaini under the Dutch boss and being the fighter that he is, it’s not foolish to think the 20-year old can reinvigorate his own career with United under the tutelage of someone he visibly idolizes in Ryan Giggs. But with Memphis Depay’s arrival and Andreas Pereira’s breakthrough tournament with the Brazil U20’s side, it is imperative that he gets himself back to where he was in the short tour of the United States and pushes further, if he really wanted to stay at Old Trafford and work his way to the top, under Louis Van Gaal in what is going to be an interesting campaign for the Red Devils.