Adnan Januzaj Can Learn from His Fellow Manchester United Youth Team Graduates
Most football fans have the same dream.
In a perfect world, their club would win league after league and cup after cup with a team of homegrown players. All local boys, all wearing the shirt they grew up in.
There would be stories of the star striker going to his first game as a toddler and pictures of the time the talismanic midfielder met a club legend before he could walk.
Barcelona have come close. They had seven La Masia graduates in the team that beat Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final. Ajax had six academy graduates in the team which won the Champions League in 1995. United had four when they won it in 1999.
United's record of producing their own players is better than most.
In David Moyes' first-team squad this season there's Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck. There's also man of the moment Adnan Januzaj, while Darren Fletcher might yet make a comeback from illness.
The six are at different stages of their careers and with it, different stages of their relationship with United fans.
Giggs is the legend, Januzaj the new saviour. Cleverley and Welbeck have their doubters. Evans and Fletcher will know how they feel having been through the same when they first broke into the team. Older and more established, both have now come out the other side.
There's a complex bond between youth team graduates and fans.
Supporters are always keen to see young players progress into the first-team. But when they do, they are greeted with a touch of suspicion.
It's especially difficult for young players to make the grade at Old Trafford. United are expected to sign the best in the world, and young players are sometimes judged against those standards.
If Cleverley isn't good enough, Moyes should go after Ilkay Gundogan. If Welbeck doesn't score enough goals, United should bid for Robert Lewandowski.
But it's an impossible comparison.
The players who fall off the production line at 20 or 21 are unfinished. They learn on the job, and they're bound—even expected—to make mistakes.
Young players are almost incapable of consistency, unless they happen to be a freak talent. They need love, care and support and to have their workload carefully managed.
Like Evans and Fletcher, who were targeted by the boo-boys early in their United careers, Welbeck and Cleverley will emerge better players. At 22 and 24 respectively, they haven't yet reached their peak.
But in the stories of Welbeck and Cleverley's progression, there's a lesson for Januzaj.
At 18, and just nine games into his United career, he's still riding a wave of excitement. He's a special talent, one that doesn't come along very often.
But he's only a teenager, and there will be times, later this season or next year, when he's struggling for form.
Cleverley was hailed as the solution to United's midfield problems when he turned the 2011 Community Shield against Manchester City. But two years on, there are some fans who wouldn't have him in the team.
With more experience comes greater expectation and just as that has been true for Evans, Fletcher, Welbeck and Cleverley, it will be the same for Januzaj.
How he handles it will be just as big a test as anything he has faced on the pitch in his debut season.
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