Januzaj Hype Says More About United and England's Weaknesses Than His Strengths
Adnan Januzaj has caused quite a stir at Manchester United: from promising beginnings in their youth set-up—when clips of this skinny child twisting defences hither and thither made their way from MUTV onto YouTube—to flashes of brilliance in United's pre-season games and finally his brief appearance in the United first team.
The clamour for Januzaj, the promising 18-year-old, has been deafening, and is semi-justified based on his skill alone. He has a grace, a lightness of touch and a style of running that have inevitably led to comparisons with a young Ryan Giggs, even if the two are different players.
His full debut did nothing to dampen this hype. His two goals and remarkably assured and mature performance led some fans to lose themselves completely. One, in the Football365 Mailbox on Sunday, compared him to Leo Messi.
This excitement has also led to suggestions that he could play for England, but it's worth noting that, if you weren't already aware, the chances of Januzaj proudly displaying those Three Lions are remote, at best. Januzaj is qualified to play for Belgium, Albania, Turkey, Kosovo and Serbia, but Roy Hodgson confirmed that England would be keeping an eye on him on the basis that he could theoretically represent them on residency grounds—that is, if he lived in England for five years without playing for another country.
However, the Home Nations agreement, signed by England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, states that players can only be 'naturalised' if they have received five years education in the UK before the age of 18. Januzaj only arrived in Manchester when he was 16, so he won't be eligible. In any case, Januzaj himself has said he wants to play for Albania, the land of his father, so that should probably be that.
There could be a similar tussle over Januzaj's club future. His current contract expires next summer, so United are understandably desperate to avoid a repeat of the Paul Pogba situation, when Pogba ran down his own deal in order to attract a juicier contract elsewhere, specifically with Juventus. And with talk of Juve, Barcelona and Manchester City all being interested, United are taking steps to tie Januzaj down to a new deal.
All of this hype, this excitement, this hyperbole, says plenty about how talented Januzaj is, but it says more about the club and country that appear so desperate to lay their claim on him. This is a largely uninspiring United team, in midfield especially, where Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have declined to the point of being liabilities, Luis Nani is enormously frustrating and Wilfried Zaha is seemingly too raw to even be trusted with a place on the bench.
In addition, Marouane Fellaini is finding his feet (and isn't a player to make crowds gasp even on his best days), Tom Cleverley seems terrified of passing the ball forwards, Ryan Giggs will be 40 next month, Michael Carrick goes missing in big games and Shinji Kagawa drifts in and out, seemingly only to thrive when a team is built around him. Similarly with England, for which thrilling skill is at even more of a premium than at United, Januzaj represents something that they do not have already.
Indeed, it's not even that Januzaj actually represents this mysterious 'something', because we cannot know for sure what sort of player he is or will turn out to be.
He is 18 with one league start to his name.
One only has to look at Federico Macheda, who went 22 months without scoring a senior goal before joining Doncaster on loan this season, to see how early promise can give way to mediocrity very quickly indeed.
It's the idea of Januzaj that is so alluring—the idea of what he might be one day. The danger is that the pressure of this expectation will not allow the idea to become reality.
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