Legendary Italian player Paolo Maldini was 35-years-old when asked if he still got nervous ahead of matches. “It’s much worse now”, he replied, “when you’re young, you don’t really care about all the fuss, you just want to prove yourself.” There’s probably a lot to learn from Maldini, and even more so when last Saturday’s game against Sunderland and subsequent goals from youngster Adnan Januzaj are put in to context.
Unlike many senior Manchester United players, the young Belgian-Albanian seemed to enjoy his football, looking eager to prove himself. There was no stress as Januzaj took two beautiful goals. The first a fine pass out to Patrice Evra on the left, with Sunderland hardman Lee Cattermole snipping at the young attacker’s heels, followed by a well-timed run in to the box and nice finish with his right. Januzaj’s second was even better when a poor John O’Shea clearance was hammered into the corner with a volley even Robin van Persie would have been proud of.
There’s no denying Januzaj a run in the first team now, not after Saturday’s display, especially if David Moyes considers Ashley Young to be the youngster’s main competitor on United’s left! England international Young hasn’t performed well in the United shirt since the Reds beat Manchester City at Ethiad in December, almost a year ago. Moyes probably realises this too, which perhaps is why Young was nowhere to be seen last weekend.
The soon-to-be-out-of-contract Januzaj actually became the youngest ever to score two goals in a Premier League game Saturday evening, so if Moyes and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward know a bit about what they’re doing – and the jury is still definitely out – they’ll make sure the youngster signs a lengthy, and profitable, contract extension. The club can ill afford another Paul Pogba situation.
Can you actually win something with kids; perhaps Moyes should look to Januzaj and other United starlets to save this so far dismal season? It’s not as if blame can be attached to any of the squad’s younger players for United’s tepid season start.
Take Rio Ferdinand, for example, who was omitted from the squad against Sunderland with a groin strain. The England international has been at fault for much that’s been going on in United’s defence this season. Both of Bayern Leverkusen’s goals in the Champions League came from Rio’s mistakes, and the same argument can be made of West Bromwich Albion’s goals at Old Trafford.
Which begs the question: where’s Johnny Evans? Thoroughly solid two seasons on the trot, the Northern Irishman seems to be another of United’s forgotten men after his comfortable display in his first game this season against Liverpool in the league cup. Maybe Moyes blames the international for United’s shock defeat against WBA?
Phil Jones should perhaps have done better when Sunderland scored the opening goal last Saturday, but United captain Nemanja Vidic won’t be pleased with the way he handed Craig Gardner the opening goal. And hasn’t Chris Smalling been pretty much outstanding when given the chance this campaign? Perhaps a little more faith in youth at the back is the way forward, while playing with some enthusiasm like Rafael Da Silva would be nice.
Januzaj might not be the sole bright young spot on offer for United this season. It was, after all, a masterclass save from ‘keeper David De Gea with the score still at 1-0 to the home side that kept United in the game.
And Tom ‘TC23’ Cleverley might deserve a few more games next to Michael Carrick in the centre of the park after two decent performances against Shaktar Donetsk and the second half against Sunderland. At least the Englishman brings a bit more energy than Marouane Fellaini, who so far seems to only be very good at passing the ball back to Carrick, or even further back towards one of United’s defenders.
Perhaps another one to claim a future place next to Carrick could be the attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard, who’s on loan to Birmingham City in the Championship until the end of October. Lingard proved during this summer’s marketing tour – formerly known as “preseason” – that he knows how to shoot, so there seems little to lose in offering the youngster time when the loan deal expires. Four goals in his first game for the Brummies prompted the experienced Birmingham assistant manager Terry McDermott to say it was the best debut he had ever seen.
Then there is Nick Powell, the first player to ever have scored a goal for Wigan Athletic in Europe – a player that was hailed by Crewe Alexandra legend Dario Gradi as one of the finest to emerge from the club’s acknowledged academy.
It is not too much to ask that talents such as Januzaj, Lingard and Powell are given a chance ahead of those that have been given many, but failed to impress. If only to make sure the senior players know that their places are under threat. After all, the aforementioned Pogba went from United’s bench to star at Juventus – it should never happen again.
It also might not be a bad idea to give Wilfried Zaha a first team debut sometime soon. The youngster could show a tad more creative spark than the ultra boring Antonio Valencia, a player that Patrice Evra once described by saying “I think he ate a motor!” Some how the Ecuadorian who has “eaten a motor” now fails to track back, pass opposition defenders or properly cross the ball. Maybe the motor is depleted?
Meanwhile, many seem to think that want-away star Wayne Rooney has been United’s finest so far, but his form is surely vastly overrated. The Scouser’s touch doesn’t look good – always a barometer – and running around like a very rich man’s Carlos Tevez isn’t going to win United enough matches, nor trophies, unless is for appreciating “effort” above all else.
Sadly, Rooney’s new-found striking partner Robin van Persie doesn’t look all that fit either, not after fluffing the chance he had to score United’s third goal against Sunderland when the Dutchman was through one on one with the home side’s ‘keeper. van Persie in good form would score in a position like that. Possibly even in his sleep.
There is even an argument – a brutal one – that a younger guard in Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández have earned a chance during the coming run of ‘favourable fixtures.’
“Manchester United has always relied hugely on young players and my priority will always be to promote these talents”, Moyes said this summer. Now is the time to prove it, David, and play your darlings!