When the world first saw him in a Manchester United shirt in a competitive match, during the Community Shield against Wigan Athletic in August, not many knew how to pronounce his name. Januzzaj, Janussaj, Januzay, Yanussaj—there were many variants.
The confusion carried on until early October, when United travelled to Sunderland in the Premier League, where the wiry young Belgian came out of the blue and knocked two superbly crafted goals into the hosts’ net to give his team a nervy win.
Even then, Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves had no clue how on earth to pronounce the boy’s name.
It was only after this match that Manchester United themselves clarified the exact pronunciation: Yann-uh-zai. They might as well have done, since by then Adnan Januzaj had become a household name for anyone following the English game.
United seemed to have unearthed the next big thing. And no, as much as the rival fans would like to chirp, it appears highly unlikely that this boy of Albanian-Kosovan descent, born in Brussels, would ever be another Federico Macheda.
In less than half a season, Januzaj has become the name, mispronounced if so, on everybody’s lips. In just 16 appearances for the Red Devils, Januzaj has already won comparisons with some of United’s best ever players—Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and George Best.
While such evaluations might be a bit premature for now, what with the lad only being 18 years of age, that hasn’t stopped debate over what his ideal jersey number should be: Simply because the young Belgian can play in such a variety of positions.
I shall always remember my first sight of him, floating over the pitch at the Cliff so effortlessly that you would have sworn his feet weren’t touching the ground. He carried his head high and he looked as relaxed and natural on the park as a dog chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.
Sir Alex Ferguson wrote these words in his first autobiography, Managing My Life. The book was first published in 1999, when Januzaj was all of four years old. So, it couldn’t possibly have been written with him in mind. Those words were written for a certain 14-year-old named Ryan Wilson, who later took on his mother's last name and became Ryan Giggs.
Giggs is perhaps Manchester United's most irreplaceable player—the quintessential Mr Manchester United. The chant "Giggs will tear you apart" couldn't be more apt in describing what United's Welsh wizard was capable of doing in his heyday.
In a sprawling professional career spanning over two decades and counting, Giggs did things with the ball on the left flank that you never knew were possible.
If you ask the old timers about their memories of watching a young, curly-haired Giggs play in the early nineties, you wouldn't be wrong in thinking, "Hey, wait a minute, Januzaj is just like that!"
He is fast, sneaky, wriggly, nimble-footed and deceiving while making runs. If there is anyone who can reproduce Giggs's goal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal, Januzaj would come the closest from what he has shown us so far.
There is a possibility Januzaj is handed the famous No. 11 jersey made immortal by Giggs. There is, of course, the other side of the argument where some fans are calling for a retirement of the No. 11 jersey once Giggs hangs up his boots.
Nonetheless, Januzaj seems a perfect fit to take over Giggs's beloved left flank. Have United found the next wizard who can tear the opposition apart?
That being said, most United fans want to see Januzaj take on the treasured No. 7 jersey that has previously been worn by club legends such as George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.
GiveMeSport's Andy Brint raised the possibility of Januzaj taking on the legendary shirt number back in October.
Not since Ronaldo vacated the jersey in 2009 have United found a worthy replacement. The two occupants since—Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia—have wilted under the colossal pressure that comes with it and have either retired or given it up.
At 18, it might be a tad too early for Januzaj to be given the jersey. But there is no mistaking the fact that his career seems to be following the path of its last famous occupant.
Armed with a complete attacking game, Januzaj is making waves at Manchester United just like Ronaldo did when he was bought from Sporting Lisbon, aged 18.
Januzaj has been deputed on the right wing, the most recent occasion being United's 3-2 win at Hull City. He is capable of switching flanks and even though he is a left-footed player, he enjoys cutting in from the right flank and doing his business.
Just like the Portuguese midfielder, Januzaj has become an instant favourite among the Old Trafford faithful, who wasted no time before whipping up a chant dedicated to him.
Like Ronaldo, young Januzaj has picked up a reputation of going to ground too easily and being one of the most fouled players in the league. While he has been schooled over the diving, manager David Moyes couldn’t help but draw comparisons with United’s last big superstar when it came to the heavy fouling by opposition players. He told the Daily Mail:
Some people need to realise this is a young talent. At the moment they are kicking him but it is right, they also kicked Ronaldo and look at the player he went on to be. Adnan will also go on to become a great player in time. At the moment the job is to make sure he is able to play.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, he also shares his birthday with Ronaldo (February 5).
Januzaj is essentially one of those very coveted "floating midfielders" plying their trade in the game. While his senior appearances for United have come on the wings, Januzaj can play centrally as well and that is where he thrived during his days in the United youth teams.
His piercing runs through the heart of the defence, his excellent vision while passing and crossing and his general awareness of his surroundings make him an ideal No. 10.
He may be below Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa in the current pecking order for that position, but don’t be surprised if you find him donning the No. 10 jersey in the years to come.
In fact, Januzaj did wear the No. 10 jersey for the youth teams before he was given squad number 44 by Sir Alex Ferguson during the latter's last game in charge of United—the 5-5 draw against West Brom last season, where the Belgian was put on the bench.
His successor, Moyes, has opted to play Januzaj on the left flank for the majority of the time so far and is handling him the same way as he did Wayne Rooney at Everton. Moyes told Mirror Football's Simon Mullock:
In time, Adnan’s best position will be No.10. But while he’s so young, it is better to introduce him on the left or right. He’s a terrific centre-forward as well and so talented that he can play in several positions. The boy’s working really well and, whatever job we give him, he’s so talented that he can handle it. I don’t want to put too much expectation on the boy, which is why I’ll take him out so he doesn’t tire. But he’s got something which I haven’t seen for a long time. I’m trying to keep the reins on him. It is a bit like I had with Wayne when he was a young player. I remember I used to get a bit of criticism because we played Wayne on the left a couple of times. You can’t always get the young players right in and when you do, you try to find the right slots for them. It didn’t do Rooney any harm!
With both Rooney and Kagawa's future at the club still somewhat uncertain, Januzaj could become United's No. 10 sooner than expected.
This is a long shot, but Januzaj has played in the centre-forward position for the youth teams. As mentioned in the previous slide, Moyes even said that Januzaj is a "terrific centre-forward" in the interview with Mullock.
It seems unlikely that Januzaj will take on the jersey vacated by Dimitar Berbatov, but you never know. He does possess the required shooting abilities that are a prerequisite from a No. 9. He will just have to gain some body mass so that he cannot be bossed around inside the box. The rest of the requirements are all checked.
During last season, Sir Alex Ferguson told Inside United:
“Adnan is a beautifully balanced player. He’s only 18 and still to grow into his frame. But he has good balance, good acceleration and he’s a very good technical player.”
Such a gifted player has to be groomed and nurtured well before thrusting him into important roles. Januzaj needs to be given at least a couple of seasons of first-team football to mature, both physically and tactically, before he takes on any of the mentioned squad numbers.
While Januzaj would probably do well in any of the discussed positions, gun to head I would say he is an ideal No. 10. From what little he has shown us, if United look after the boy properly, he could go on to become a club legend by the time he retires.
What do you think? Which would be his ideal playing position?