Flash back to 2014. The spotlight flickers at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, and for the first time, it’s announced that Adnan Januzaj is starting his first game for United. The excitement is quiet, but it becomes less so when he bags two goals and carries United to a win.
This situation became more common throughout the season, as Januzaj had a very promising campaign, carrying United during dire times under David Moyes. However, eventually, his luck petered out- United signed Angel di Maria in the summer, as well as Radamel Falcao, but ultimately, the Belgian international who went to the World Cup in 2014 didn’t take the chances he was given.
Questions were asked of the Belgian- did he perform up to the standards of a Manchester United prospect? Was he a big fish in a small pong under David Moyes? Borussia Dortmund had no questions when they opted to take him on loan, but he had a dire spell there and was recalled by Louis van Gaal.
Now on loan at Sunderland, he is showing more signs of improving, but hardly fast enough, as he’s failed to score in the Premier League and only has a goal and three assists in all senior competitions. Considering the progress made by Andreas Pereira, who has made selection difficult for Jose Mourinho next season with his performances on loan at Granada.
“It has been very difficult because it is not easy to go from Man United to Sunderland. I had to just do it, I will learn from it because I am 22. People think I am 26 or 27, I am only 22. I know people want more from me. The other side of it is that they have to look at other parts of my game. When I leave here I know I will be happy. I have learned a lot and it will make me stronger. I don’t know where I will be, but I will feel much fitter and will be happy.”
Januzaj is absolutely correct– he has improved on loan at Sunderland, but the question is as to whether or not he is improving enough to reach the Manchester United standard over the course of his career. Personally, I don’t think he will be- the Belgian seems to struggle to have an identity in his game.
The first time I watched him was at Old Trafford, during Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial, in 2014, and from then I noticed the same- he has good feet, but no clear turn of pace to be a winger and no clear incisive pass to be an attacking midfielder. He played in both positions that day and struggled for the same reasons- he wasn’t quick enough to get past his fullback, or neat enough to pass between the lines behind the striker.
While Januzaj could become a tactical threat at United as a result, odds are he’s a few steps away. Firstly, I think he should seriously consider trying to become a box-to-box midfielder or an out-and-out striker; those positions suit his attributes and technical abilities much better, particularly if he can drag outside and cross into the box.
Most importantly, though, he needs another year on loan at a Premier League club that promises to play him, and I think David Moyes is the only manager who would do that- as a result, we could see another stunting of the Belgian’s development. At least he’s showing the determination in the media, but we all know that may not be enough.