It happened in barely a moment, Adnan Januzaj resetting his slight frame with such wonderful balance to drive John O’Shea’s headed clearance low into the bottom corner of Sunderland’s net. The 61st minute volley, so sweetly timed, secured Manchester United three valuable Premier League points at the Stadium of Light. It was barely a chance at all let alone one an 18-year-old freshman should put away on full début. Little wonder the hype cycle has hit its peak since Saturday night.
Yet, Januzaj’s technical ability comes as no surprise to those who have witnessed the Belgian’s growth in United’s reserve team over the past 18 months. It was always his readiness for action in the big leagues that remained in doubt – right up to Saturday’s epiphany. Doubts exist no more – the lightweight boy has become a featherweight man.
In truth Januzaj’s second in the north east wasn’t a half chance at all. Right foot planted, left driving through the floating ball with a precision that only comes with outstanding technical ability; an announcement to the world that a new talent has come of age. Say it loud, and say it proud.
Indeed, it is a measure of genuine impact that Januzaj’s winner relegates a beautifully crafted opening United goal to a comparative footnote in the memory.
The club, and especially manager David Moyes, will do everything to keep the hype to a trickle and Januzaj’s feet grounded. It is an impossible task; the tide was rising even before the teenager’s volley hit the net on Saturday and burst into life on Sunday’s back pages.
A tsunami now awaits, yet so cool appears the youngster’s temperament that in publicity there should be little fear for Januzaj’s progress, whatever difficulties might lie ahead. While only a rare breed among hyper-talented teenagers ever truly fulfills inflated expectations it is heart, not head, that dictates good money is already placed on this kid making it to the very top.
It is a bet Moyes desperately needs to land as well.
“I remember giving Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley their debuts and Adnan is certainly in that quality,” said the 50-year-old in the aftermath of Saturday’s victory.
“Starting Adnan certainly wasn’t a gamble for me. I see Adnan in training every day, I saw him on tour and actually he’s even got better since coming back from the tour. I would have probably put him in the team three or four weeks ago. I just felt that until we got a bit of momentum into our play, I thought we had to wait. As it was, he’s looked as good as anybody in training.
“His goals were great. Two different types of goals. He’s a really good talent but Manchester United will keep his feet on the ground. Anybody who watches MUTV will have seen him play in the Reserves on Monday night against Bolton. And we’ll do that, we’ll try to bring him on at the right speed.”
In that there is a concern, of course. That Januzaj, like Paul Pogba before him, can walk away from the club before a new contract is signed, antecedent to the best of his talent ever emerging on Old Trafford’s green grass.
Undeniably, Moyes’ assertion that he’s “not too worried about the contract situation” and that “every young boy wants to play for Manchester United” raises little confidence. There is, after all, a global market for talent – and United is by no means the only show in town. There are, as Sir Alex Ferguson might put it, other cows, and more grass.
The club has trodden this path before. Ravel Morrison – another lost talent, albeit for very different reasons – is maturing at West Ham United. And with Pogba long gone the Reds are in real danger of losing three players of the very rarest order in unacceptably short succession.
Still, for the time being Moyes is smart enough to take the risk on Januzaj’s ability and to have rapidly phased in the player’s introduction. It might just transform United’s season, while on recent evidence the Scot will struggle to keep Januzaj out of team from here to next May. The kid could metamorphose the manager’s fortunes too.
“We’ll just make sure he’s not treated any different and try not to get the media too hyped up about him,” said Moyes. “But it’s difficult not to talk about a boy when he puts in a performance like that and he scores two goals. But he deserves it. He’s a really humble boy and grounded boy. I’ve not got too many fears about him. He is a special player.”
In the meantime it is not only the media engaging in embellishment, but senior pros too. Like Cristiano Ronaldo before him, there is a sense that Januzaj had won over his senior team-mates before kicking a ball in competitive anger. In professional sport there is nothing like talent to beget glowing respect.
“He’s done it on the big stage now,” said Michael Carrick, a man not normally known for hyperbole.
“He’s got so much ability, he’s got a great attitude too. He can be anything he wants to be. He’s that good, he’s got that chance. It’s just the start for him. I’m sure he’s not going to get carried away with it.
“His two finishes, the first was on his weaker foot, you would think. His second one was just a terrific volley. I was telling him at half-time to get in the box because there were chances for him. We’ve got a lot to thank him for. He’s won us the game.”
It certainly won’t be the last leaving Moyes with a delicate path to tread, from a manager’s natural caution, to a recognition that Januzaj’s time is very much now.
Still, there are plenty of reminders in United’s recent history of the differing paths a young player;s career can take. In Pogba there is a shining light, burning away from Old Trafford. The midfielder, now at Juventus, will make next summer’s French World Cup squad.
Then there is Morrison, a player of outstanding natural talent, whose off-the-field indiscretion forced United’s hand. The 20-year-old’s call-up to England under-21 duty was a gratefully received morsel of redemption this week – one celebrated with an outstanding individual effort against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Each in turn was hailed as United’s new midfield saviour. That a new Red faces the same sobriquet is no surprise. United supporters simply hope for a different outcome: a story that begins and ends at Old Trafford.