David Moyes’ torrid eleven months at Old Trafford will forever be remembered as one of the darkest episodes in recent Manchester United history. But if there’s one decision Red Devils fans will be thanking the much-maligned Scot for in the many years to come, it’s likely his tying down of prodigy winger Adnan Januzaj to a five-year contract, along with a £5million signing-on sweetener, in October 2013.
A supremely talented teenager, Januzaj exploded onto the scene with a stunning brace against Sunderland during his first start for Manchester United. Just a handful of appearances later, he was nominated for BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year award and became the epicentre of a tug of war between the England, Belgium, Albania and Turkey national teams – all of whom he was legible to play for.
So away from the chaos of last season and in the comfort of a far more positive, organised and ambitious United side, many expected the youngster to be treading new ground this season – perhaps even a starring role despite his tender age, parallel to that of Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling.
Counter-intuitively however, Januzaj seems at his furthest from United’s starting Xi since his debut almost eighteen months ago, eclipsed by the club’s ‘Gaalactico’ summer signings and struggling to even claim a place on the bench. In total, he’s seen just 409 minutes’ worth of Premier League action this term and is yet to record a goal or an assist from ten outings – four starts and six sub appearances.
There are now reports he could be sent out on loan in January, either a link-up with David Moyes and Real Sociedad or a shorter trip to Everton, so the question persists; should Manchester United fans be concerned by Januzaj’s seemingly limited progress this season?
Of course, we are talking about a 19 year-old with over a decade ahead of him to turn good. Januzaj’s potential remains without doubt; even though his performances have remained fairly unspectacular this season, averaging 0.8 chances created, 0.8 successful take-ons, 1.4 attempts at goal per match compared to 1.15, 1.89 and 1.8 respectively last term, glimpses of his quality are still forthcoming, be it through his imaginative link-up play or ability to perform technically-demanding skill.
His decision-making often comes under criticism from sectors of the United support but that should hardly be a concern regarding a player so young. It’s a case of when, rather than if, the Belgium international begins to pick his moments more wisely and stops overcomplicating matters in the final third.
Yet, the lingering doubt, in my opinion, stems from Louis van Gaal. The Manchester United boss has worked at some of the biggest clubs in world football and the alumni of debutants from his spells at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich verges on legendary; Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, David Alaba, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, the De Boer brothers to name a few.
Consequentially, one would expect Januzaj to flourish under a manager with such an incredible reputation of developing young talent, but he’s been outshone in that regard by the likes of Luke Shaw, James Wilson, Patrick McNair and Tyler Blackett. One could even argue Reece James – a star of United’s pre-season tour – has shown more progress than the Belgian under LVG this season.
That’s not to suggest Januzaj has in any way fallen afoul of van Gaal in the same manner Wilfried Zaha did under David Moyes last season, for example. He’s issued the Belgian wizzkid ten Premier League appearances, after all, which is more than Wilson, Blackett and McNair.
But it certainly gives food for thought, and with the landscape at Manchester United ever-changing at this moment in time – indeed, they seem to be switching formations, systems and starting line-ups on a weekly basis, whilst further lucrative arrivals are expected in January – perhaps a loan move wouldn’t be the worst option for young Januzaj. There’s no disgrace in taking a step backward to go forward – especially at a club with the monolithic pressures of Manchester United.
So should Red Devils fans be concerned? Perhaps that Januzaj hasn’t taken to the change in regime quite so quickly as some of United’s other youngsters. Some might also suspect whether the Belgian’s attitude has been affected by his new found fame and fortune. But more than concern, what Januzaj deserves now is patience; having exploded onto the Premier League in a fit of frenzied hype, it would be a tremendous shame if he soon becomes surrounded in equally rash, counter-acting criticism.
The 19 year-old has already shown phenomenal progress for a player his age – fans may have to wait a little longer than expected, but there seems little doubt that Januzaj will be worth it.