“That kid’s going to be a superstar, isn’t he?” Steve Bruce is just the latest in a long line of players, managers and pundits who has predicted a bright future for Adnan Januzaj, making this bold prediction following his fantastic performance against Hull City on Tuesday night. The teenager has certainly kept United fans on the edge of their seats throughout an entirely disappointing campaign, and many United fans are in agreement that they haven’t seen such an impressive young talent in a red shirt since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo made his debut over a decade ago.
The parallels have been there all season, that’s for sure. United fans will always remember the impact Ronaldo made after coming off the bench to make his Premier League debut against Bolton Wanderers in 2003, and Januzaj’s first Premier League start was something just as memorable. Two goals to turnaround a 1-0 deficit and win his side three valuable points is the stuff of dreams, and will live long in the memory of every fan in the ground that day. The manner of his goals was the most impressive thing though. Just like Ronaldo against Bolton, he wasn’t fazed by the occasion. He had the confidence and ability to make his mark at the highest level, and for someone so young it simply suggested he is bound for a great career in the game.
Away from subjective views of his potential though, the stats show his debut season for Manchester United is incredibly similar to that of the Portuguese superstar, and if it’s any indicator for the future then there’s every chance he can go on to emulate the former United winger. Opta stats show the two to have scored the same number of goals from virtually the same number of minutes on the pitch, with similar passing accuracy, chances created and assists. In fact in many areas Januzaj has surpassed Ronaldo’s first year at United.
So the raw stats show he has had the same impact that Ronaldo had in his first season, but that alone is not enough to make a case for Adnan Januzaj to become one of the best players in the world. What helps is the similarity between the two players on the pitch. Ronaldo took the Premier League by storm as a winger who could play from either side, beat a man with pace or trickery and could score with either foot. Sound familiar? Well Januzaj burst onto the scene with those comparisons coming from every angle following his double against Sunderland, and they were to continue all season long. Against Sunderland he showed his ability to score with either foot for each of his goals, and throughout the campaign there has been plenty of evidence of his ability to beat a man. Whether it be with pace or needing a trick to fool an opponent, Januzaj has provided both when called upon.
One of the biggest compliments that can be paid to the Belgian is the rough treatment he has received from opposition defences. On multiple occasions this season David Moyes had expressed his anger at the way he had been targeted by defenders in an unfair manner, and called upon referees to provide more protection from malicious tackles. Not just Moyes but Giggs too in fact, following David Meyler’s stamp on his shin in the 3-1 win over Hull City in midweek, the interim manager also called for more protection for Januzaj due to the nature of these challenges. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last that a defender looks to leave his mark and intimidate him, but Januzaj should see it as a mark of respect more than anything. Bale and Ronaldo are two examples of flying wingers who were constantly targeted by the opposition. Both were kicked, elbowed, tripped and riled by defenders who couldn’t get close to stopping them fairly. Defenders know Januzaj is a threat, and he’s only going to get better.
Realistically there is no way of knowing if Januzaj can emulate Cristiano Ronaldo. He has the potential most definitely, but many players never reach that potential, and some don’t even get close. Even if he is to maximise his potential very few players have reached the impeccable levels that Ronaldo has managed to in the past few years. We can however judge the youngster on the similarity between his career up to this point and what Ronaldo achieved at the same age. Following his first year at Old Trafford, Ronaldo was called up to the Portuguese squad for Euro 2004 and reached the final with the host nation, being narrowly beaten by Greece. Having recently declared himself eligible for the Belgian national team, Januzaj is set to make his debut for his country in their World Cup warm-up matches and may yet be chosen to represent Belgium at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. That would be some achievement for a boy who had not played a minute of professional football just a year beforehand.
With the potential arrival of Louis van Gaal as manager, Januzaj will be able to work under a coach who can help him realise the massive potential he has. Just as Ronaldo did with Ferguson, the relationship between Januzaj and van Gaal will be vital if Januzaj is to reach the pinnacle of the game. If he keeps his feet on the ground and concentrates on playing for Manchester United we will have one serious talent on our hands, and that is something every fan can get excited about.
By Adem Berkay
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