“This is the end, beautiful friend, my only friend, the end” – The Doors.It’s pretty safe to say that Adnan Januzaj’s United career can be filed in the ‘not quite good enough’ drawer. There’ll be a sense of bitterness, if there isn’t already, that a highly talented academy graduate will be moving on to pastures new, and perhaps a justifiable sense of anger that the Belgian didn’t kick on after his breakthrough season. Yet, perhaps the most appropriate feeling is one of sadness.
Sadness that he didn’t build on his good start when the path was there to succeed. Januzaj “burned out then faded away,” to paraphrase Neil Young’s My My, Hey Hey. But for a few months in the 2013/14 season he burned bright and shone, providing a light in the darkness of the Moyes error.
"It is sad that a gifted academy graduate didn’t make the grade. United fans glimpsed, if only for a short time, the talent Januzaj holds."
It can be argued that United’s mediocrity under the former Everton manager made Januzaj stand out that much more because fans were desperately looking for something – or someone – positive on which to latch. Quite the burden for a player who was just a teenager at the time.
It’s tempting to dive in and dissect everything that went wrong for Januzaj since his break-out season. He was marginalised by Louis van Gaal, told-off by Thomas Tuchel during an ill-fated loan at Borussia Dortmund, and made an underwhelming impact in a Sunderland side that wasn’t exactly brimming with quality. Januzaj’s time at Wearside was made to look all the more worse as it ran in parallel Andreas Pereira’s impressive campaign for struggling Granada.
Odd statement as this may be, but for all this to go wrong, Januzaj must have done something very right to begin with to be in a position to fall from such a height. His breakthrough season was a breath of fresh air and the Belgian seemingly possessed the hallmarks of a classic Manchester United player; skillful, quick and fearless, Januzaj was courageous when his side was at its most timid.
There was the grand announcement, scoring a brace against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light to turn a one goal deficit into a 2-1 win. “We are watching somespecial here,” proclaimed an excited Gary Neville and in that moment the former United full-back was right. His first goal at Old Trafford against West Ham United was a picture in confidence coupled with technique as Januzaj bamboozled James Collins before slotting the ball home.
All told he made 27 appearances in the Premier League that season, scoring four goals and making four assists. More telling that season was the level of responsibility Januzaj was given with each passing game – he seemingly took it all in his stride. The Belgian’s performance in United’s 3-1 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge showed off his strength of character when he was effectively handed the sole burden of creativity with both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney missing.
Such was Januzaj’s rise there were fears that he’d be poached by other clubs as his initial contract was up at the end of the season. Rumour of a £25 million move to Real Madrid surfaced. When the Belgian put pen to paper for a new five-year deal more than a few sighs of relief could be heard as the young prodigy committed his immediate future to the club.
There were also debates as to whether he could represent England on the international stage – he qualified for up to four international teams before picking Belgium. Januzaj e was even shortlisted for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year. The starlet’s rise was meteoric.
Januzaj’s last meaningful contribution that season was his goal against Newcastle United, capping off a fine team move. The youngster was relegated to the bench the following as United lost 2-0 at Everton. That result spelled the end of Moyes’ tenure, but symbolically it perhaps drew a line under Januzaj’s time at United too.
He would never quite hit those heights again. Maybe too much came too soon and his attitude – if stories are to be believed – was highly questionable. Questions may be asked about how the club allowed him to fail. Only Adnan and those closest to him will fully know how and why his stock has taken such a tumble. Now the 22-year old is the subject of fun and a move to Moyes’ old haunt at Real Sociedad is on the cards.
If Januzaj is to fully realise his potential it won’t be at Old Trafford and there’s a danger that his career will drift aimlessly unless he arrests the slump. It is genuinely sad that such a gifted academy graduate didn’t make the grade because United fans glimpsed, if only for a short period of time, the talent Januzaj holds.