Sometimes I, Januzaj
Joined the lads from Man United
Plays midfield we get excited
He plays behind Defoe
He’s gonna score a goal
It was of course at the Stadium of Light where Januzaj initially burst onto the scene. His two goals against Kevin Ball’s Sunderland in 2013 generated a media frenzy that had some questioning whether all it takes to become a world-class player is to do Valentin Roberge for pace.
It was the 5th of October and we were seven games into the season when we first met Adnan Januzaj. Paolo Di Canio had made a disastrous start to the campaign, and after losing his job in September, the club took their time in naming a replacement. Game as ever, in stepped Kevin Ball. The Sunderland legend will never shy away from a challenge, but after being undone by Luis Suarez’s Liverpool just a week earlier, Ball could have been forgiven for erring on the side of caution in his tactics against Manchester United. That wasn’t the case, though, and Sunderland looked lively from the outset. After just five minutes, Craig Gardner capitalised on a defensive error to put Sunderland 1-0 up.
In the opposite dugout, David Moyes was experiencing a tough start to his time at Manchester United. In an effort to shake things up, perhaps give the senior players a kick up the arse, Fergie’s successor handed 18-year-old Januzaj his first start for the club. And while the youngster lacked any sort of intelligence or physicality in the first half, his second-half performance more than made up for it.
Ten minutes after the restart, Januzaj found acres of space in the Sunderland penalty area, and was picked out gracefully by Patrice Evra. The full debutant finished emphatically, and all of Sunderland’s hard work had been undone by a scared kid with a rocket up his arse. Six minutes later it happened again, only this goal was entirely Januzaj’s own working. Picked out at the far post, but with several defenders in front of him, Adnan’s first-time strike across the face of Keiren Westwood would be the goal that started it all; the goal that would launch his career. But at what cost?
The back pages of Sunday’s papers were dominated by Adnan Januzaj. ‘Who is Manchester United’s teenage sensation?’ asked The Guardian. The Mirror proposed that as Belgium-born player was yet to declare his preferred national side, ‘Manchester United's goal hero Adnan Januzaj could yet play for ENGLAND, after FA make approach’. The wonderkid is now the hottest young player in Britain, possibly the world, and it’s all down to six minutes of quality against Sunderland.
Meanwhile, there’s an 18-year-old lad sitting at home watching Sky Sports News and seeing his face every 20 seconds. His agent is on the phone and he’s telling him that Man United are going to offer him another contract. This will extend his stay in Manchester by five years, until 2018, and see his salary rise from £1,000 a week to £30,000 a week. He signs it. Who wouldn’t? At 18 years old, Adnan Januzaj will now earn more in seven days than the average UK worker will earn in a year.
His media profile can’t be ignored, and the BBC take the inspired decision to nominate Januzaj for BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, despite making just ten overall appearances for Manchester United. For perspective, Cristian Riveros made 12 appearances for Sunderland. I’d be surprised if you could remember more than two. The winner of the BBC award was skeet shooter Amber Hill, who is the youngest ever winner of a senior World Cup in that sport, at just 15 years old. Skeet shooting isn’t very sexy, like, but success is always relative.
Now every time that Januzaj steps onto a football pitch, fans are expecting a performance. Every time he misses the target, he’s a failure. Every time he’s muscled off the ball, he’s overhyped. Every time he’s substituted, it’s due to a ‘disastrous performance that will surely leave David Moyes questioning whether the youngster has what it takes to make it at the top level’. Meanwhile, Januzaj is still 18 years old. He’s still a kid. And he’s on thirty grand a week.
The Sun newspaper runs a four-page spread where they interview a girl who young Adnan reportedly took on a date. ‘30k a week Premier League hotshot Adnan Januzaj took this buxom beauty on a cheap date to NANDOS. And he turned up in his TRACKSUIT.’ It’s all bollocks. Even if it isn’t fabricated, what’s so strange about a young lad taking someone on a date to a restaurant? On the next page, they interview an ageing stripper who Januzaj reportedly visited on several occasions. He’s the new Wayne Rooney, he’s into the grannies. He’s a source of ridicule, and he’s the poster boy for David Moyes’ nightmare at Manchester United.
When Moyes is sacked and Van Gaal is in the dugout, Januzaj is deployed to mixed success. However well he does, though, he can never live up to the impossible standards set for him by the same publications that are now relishing in his downfall. How can a young player be given the time and opportunities to develop as a professional athlete, if he can’t leave the house without a worm wearing a lanyard shoving a camera in his face? And if he’s being paid 30,000 pounds a week, how can he be expected to fulfil his potential without a solid incentive to do so? If someone increased your salary by 2900% overnight, would you still be inclined to work as hard?
Adnan is shipped out on loan to Borussia Dortmund, a respectable German side with an excellent reputation for developing young players. After making just three starts in the first half of the season, however, Manchester United decide to recall him. Not worth the time away from home, they said, not if he’s sitting on the bench. The summer of 2016 arrives, and Januzaj is no further forward in his profession than he was nearly three years ago. What better way to pick up the pieces of a fragmented career, than to revisit the place it all started?
I’m sure Adnan didn’t think he’d ever be playing for Sunderland. I’m sure when he signed that five-year contract he thought that he’d be a world beater by now, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Sunderland is a fantastic place for him to rebuild his confidence, develop his attributes, and silence his detractors. He’ll play in front of a set of fans who will show him patience, love, and understanding of his situation, and if he rewards those fans with performances, they’ll make him feel like the player he was once touted to be.
After all, it only takes six minutes of quality at the Stadium of Light to become a world-class player.