In a move that seemingly came out of nowhere, Manchester United youngster Adnan Januzaj confirmed on Wednesday that he would make himself eligible to play for the Belgian national team, choosing the Red Devils over the likes of England, Kosovo and Turkey, amongst others.
Het Laatste Nieuws' Kristof Terreur was one of the first to report the news, which was made official by Belgium coach Marc Wilmots:
OFFICIAL: national manager Marc Wilmots has announced that Adnan Januzaj has chosen for Belgium.— Kristof Terreur (@HLNinEngeland) April 23, 2014
Unsurprisingly, the team's official Twitter account was more than happy with the news:
Januzaj has long been seen as an outstanding talent, emerging from the youth ranks of Anderlecht before making the move to United in 2011. The 2013-14 Premier League season turned into a massive breakout season for the winger, making 14 total starts for the Mancunians despite just being a 19-year-old, per WhoScored.com.
But despite being born in Brussels, questions arose over which national team the youngster would eventually choose to play for. Complicated regulations ensured the player could play for Belgium, Kosovo, Turkey, Albania and even England, provided Januzaj would be willing to wait for several years.
With tremendous pace, excellent dribbling skills and vision well beyond his young age, each of these nations did its very best to convince Januzaj to pick their team, but until Wednesday, the player had turned down every single appeal.
Turkey's Fatih Terim was the last to give it a go in March, per The Mirror's Liam Prenderville. The manager told NTV Spor:
If we don't offer Januzaj the chance, we will be criticised for missing out.
The Turkish Football Federation president, staff and myself have asked him to play for Turkey.
His father is Turkish, his mother is Kosovan and Albania, England, Kosovo and Belgium all want him to represent their country.
We are working towards the possibility of him playing for Turkey. I mean if he decided he wants to play for us, we have the right to play him.
Seemingly each party was rumoured to have the inside track at landing him at some point, with Kosovo often stated as the player's choice of the heart, providing they would be able to set up a team in the near future.
Of all the interested parties, Belgium were the one team least vocal in their courtship of the player, in part because Wilmots and his staff felt they had the biggest claim over him due to the player being born and raised in their country, and in part because Belgium's midfield competition is already fierce.
Did Januzaj make the right choice?
With Eden and Thorgan Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Dries Mertens, Kevin Mirallas, Nacer Chadli and youngsters like Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Zakaria Bakkali all vying for playing time, convincing Januzaj to join the squad was perhaps less of a priority for the Devils.
It now seems as if the hard-to-get approach paid off for the Belgians.
Twitter reacted to the news like only Twitter can:
So Januzaj will be playing for Belgium then. Look forward to the British press calling him an overrated foreigner from now on.— Si (@PhantomGoal) April 23, 2014
Disgrace. Januzaj turning his back on his country on St George's Day. What has this nation come to?— Chappers (@DanieIChapman) April 23, 2014
Despite what some may seem to be thinking, Januzaj is unlikely to join the team during this summer's World Cup in Brazil. As mentioned previously, competition in midfield is fierce and Wilmots has a tendency to reward the players who have fought to achieve a certain goal. In this case, that means the core that achieved qualification.
That said, the injury to Christian Benteke opened up an extra slot in the attacking compartment, so Januzaj could still sneak into the selection. Regardless, the opportunity to play big-tournament football with an emerging nation like Belgium will no doubt have influenced the youngster's decision.