Adnan Januzaj faces uphill battle for first team football

Manchester United’s attacking midfield ranks were absolutely stocked before Jose Mourinho joined. Now, with United nearly set to land Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United’s attacking midfield ranks are packed tight. Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young, Memphis, Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, James Wilson, Antonio Valencia, Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic, and now Adnan Januzaj will all be fighting for a maximum of four places in the team. This bodes well for United, but not for the likes of Januzaj, who need first team football to flourish as a player.

Januzaj, making 35 appearances under David Moyes and recording Cristiano Ronaldo-esque numbers, has been unable to nail down a place in this United side since Louis van Gaal was appointed the manager. Undoubtedly talented as he is, Januzaj’s best position is unclear and there are doubts as to whether his discipline and work rate are where they need to be for him to make it at the top-level. For the first half of his second season at Dortmund, Januzaj spent his time sitting on a German bench at Borussia Dortmund, where attacking midfield talent isn’t exactly bare either.

Mkhitaryan, his main competitor for a spot at Dortmund, seems set to follow him back to Manchester United, and he’s one of 13 players fighting with Januzaj for four places in a side. Once a fan favourite at United, Januzaj’s presence at the club seems to be dwindling, with players like Martial, Rashford and Lingard grabbing the headlines he used to frequent. It’s so tough to categorize Januzaj as a player; he doesn’t have the passing of an archetypal central-attacking midfielder, and he doesn’t have the blistering pace of a winger.

Both are considered strengths of his, which funds the greatest argument that he could be a more mobile version of Juan Mata on United’s right. However, if Matteo Darmian plays on United’s right side of the defence, it seems likely Mourinho will want a more natural threat on the right side of his attack to allow Darmian to do the defensive work he does so well. If Timothy Fosu-Mensah is at right-back, it could be a perfect match, but that could also seem quite unlikely.

What need we see in Januzaj before he earns a starting role? With a dozen others vying for his role, he needs to show his true strength to be successful. What can Januzaj, a player seemingly stuck in a giant mix of talents, do to stand out?

Work Tremendously Hard Off And On The Pitch

If Januzaj is going to edge out his competitors, he has to work as hard as he can for two reasons. The first is because he needs to develop faster than the players he is competing against, and the second is because it would raise Mourinho’s opinion of him. Mourinho is known to love a hardworking player, and he declared his admiration for Januzaj in a press conference in 2014, so it could only prove to be a good combination for Januzaj.

Jesse Lingard was subject to a lot of criticism in his first full season at United, with his profligacy in front of goal and generally poor positioning sometimes placing United in awkward situations. However, one thing that was so vital was Lingard’s work rate, which was most noticeable when Juan Mata occupied his typical spot on the right-wing. Lingard was clearly more effective on the left side of midfield, but his hard work made him an asset on the right too.

Use His Versatility

Much has been made of Mkhitaryan’s ability to play multiple positions and be accomplished in all of them; if Januzaj can achieve this, his odds of finding game time will be much higher. Under David Moyes, he spent most of his time on the left side of midfield, while under Louis van Gaal he found playing time on the right, behind the striker and as the striker. Of all 13 players, none can play all four positions, and this is an area in which he gains an edge over other players. With versatility and United’s famous injury problems, he could find a chance sooner than you’d think.

Take His Chance

If Januzaj finds his chance, he has to take it. Whether he scores a goal or not is irrelevant, but if he is creative and plays a good match, the odds that he will play again are much higher. Whether he makes his impact off the bench or as a starting player in the cups, Januzaj will have a route into the first team if he works hard and uses his versatility. If he can’t take his chance at United yet, there is only one other way he can make it at United, and it will have to be the hard way.

Go Out On Loan

Januzaj needs to make his value absolutely obvious to stand out in a group of above average youth players looking to make it in football. Once United’s senior players are sifted out, we’re left with Pereira, Martial, Memphis, Lingard, Wilson, and Rashford. At least one of the others will still be around in a couple of years, and it seems Januzaj only has one or two last years at United unless he can impress. This means the best option for him could be to go on loan.

Jesse Lingard only got into the first team after many tries out on loan, but because he persisted with his loans and worked hard, he made it through against the circumstances. If Januzaj has the work ethic to go out on loan and play his best football for two to three years, there will be no doubt in the manager’s mind that he is United material. And, to be honest, that’s what it’s all about. Januzaj needs to find a way to show that he’s United material. The quicker Januzaj can show his development, the better. Throughout the article, I haven’t been able to stress this final point enough, so I’ll make it simple and conclusive. Time is ticking.

Written by Aaron Moniz


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