It seems that the ghosts of managers in United’s past, present and maybe future have been circling the news recently. Jose Mourinho’s revolution continues at an extremely high pace as the football from Louis van Gaal’s era is washed out to leave only his excellent foundations. United fans will certainly hope there is a qualified managerial route for the departed Ryan Giggs to eventually return. But most people have removed all thoughts of the disastrous 10 months United faced under David Moyes.
The Scot led United to a seventh place finish, most notably almost beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League but falling to a quarterfinal exit. His uninspired football was still more adventurous than van Gaal’s, but the Dutchman had an excellent record in big fixtures that endeared him to United fans. The undoubted best move of his tenure was debuting then 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj, who glimmered in an Anthony Martial-esque fashion, pulling better numbers than Cristiano Ronaldo’s first season at the club at the same age.
Raheem Sterling’s seven goals and eight assists in 35 appearances in his second Premier League campaign were enough to earn him a stunning £49 million move to Manchester City, and Januzaj was universally believed to be better than the Englishman a year prior, which is enough to explain the potential. Januzaj’s wide range of techniques made him everything a modern attacking midfielder should be, so much so that it is still impossible to determine his best role. Since Moyes’ departure, Januzaj has made fewer appearances in two years than in those 10 months.
The retrospectively brain-dead signings of Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria, combined with the stunning resurgence of Ashley Young forced Januzaj into nothing more than a role starring in the U21’s for the vast majority of the season. Subsequently, a bizarre loan move to Borussia Dortmund, home of arguably the best-attacking midfielders in the world failed for stunningly obvious reasons, and upon return, he was cup-tied and could not represent United in the Europa League, which was the only place where he would even stand a chance of game time.
Louis van Gaal, Thomas Tuchel and now Jose Mourinho, three top-class managers, have failed to get the same spark out of Januzaj that the now-comedic Moyes could. The rescue point of Januzaj’s career would have to be for him to double his 2013-14 Premier League tally of four goals and four assists while maintaining the same flair that he made his own in that season. It seems an impossible mission for a player who seems to have disciplinary problems, but if there’s any place for him to find his best form and position, it will have to be Sunderland. With Moyes joining the perennial relegation-fighting Black Cats and declaring his interest in Januzaj, now is the time to make a move that could prove more useful than any other this summer for the following reasons.
Firstly, Januzaj needs Premier League game-time, not just the ability to step on a football pitch. Sunderland is the one club where he will be guaranteed this. The signing of Jeremain Lens didn’t pan out nearly as well as expected, while Adam Johnson is no longer a footballer for obvious reasons. Sunderland is in need of an attacking threat not named Jermain Defoe, despite the fact they only scored 1 less than United in the Premier League last season. If that doesn’t guarantee him playing time, consider this – at United, Moyes gave him time over the likes of Ashley Young, Nani, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa, all four far more skilled than Sunderland’s current crop.
Secondly, Januzaj at Sunderland would not only be fighting for his Manchester United future but also his future in the Premier League. When sent back to Crystal Palace, Wilfried Zaha found a home in the Premier League despite the fact he was clearly surplus to requirements at United. Mourinho loaned Ryan Bertrand to Southampton in his time at Chelsea, and Bertrand was in the PFA Team of the Year there despite failing to find a home at Chelsea. Even United’s maligned Tom Cleverley found a great home at Everton in the Premier League after a wonderful spell at Aston Villa where many believed he could even return to United. If he goes on loan to Sunderland, Januzaj will be raising his market value and considering his Premier League options.
Finally, Januzaj will have something concrete to fight for, because he will need to play a part in Sunderland’s ability to (once again) avoid relegation. Avoiding relegation for Sunderland is as big as winning the league for United, both financially and in the eyes of their fans. He will also, once again, be fighting for his place in the Belgian national team, where he failed to impress at the World Cup in 2014. If he can earn his way back into the Belgian national team, he will find a place in the elite of football regardless of where it is. Bringing success to Sunderland would be an achievement on both a personal level and for Moyes’ Sunderland.