Adnan Januzaj had the world at his feet this time last year, but things have turned a little sour for the Manchester United starlet following the arrival of Louis van Gaal in the summer.
Van Gaal was tipped to help complete Januzaj’s transformation from exciting talent to world-class superstar. This is a player with the potential to scale the same heights as some of the best players on the planet. One person inside Old Trafford even compared Januzaj to a ‘young Johan Cruyff’ - and praise doesn’t come much higher than that.
But despite being handed the Red Devils’ iconic number eleven shirt - vacated by club legend Ryan Giggs at the end of last season - United’s young Cruyff-esque wonderkid has endured a stop-start campaign so far.
He has completed just two of United’s 14 Premier League fixtures this season, while just as worrying is the fact he has been on the pitch for one out of a possible 270 minutes in the Red Devils’ previous three games against Arsenal, Hull City and Stoke City.
Januzaj signed a five-year deal with Manchester United last season - in which he was arguably the Premier League giants’ best player behind goalkeeper David de Gea - under the impression that he was now a certified first-team regular.
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PSG wanted Januzaj
Interest in the Belgium international grew as last season progressed - with reports that French champions Paris Saint-Germain were even prepared to spend an astronomical £40 million to sign Old Trafford’s latest superstar - but he committed his long-term future to United because of the prestige of the club and the fact he was playing week-in, week-out under David Moyes.
Januzaj’s agent confirmed in May that PSG had tempted his client with an “astonishing” deal before he signed his new deal at Old Trafford, confessing: “It could have been interesting from a commercial point of view.”
But the teenager and his agent were firmly of the belief that he was at the right club to hone his development. He was happy at Manchester United, who were in turn more than happy with his progress - so why has the situation suddenly changed?
Van Gaal boasts an excellent track record of helping young stars fulfil their potential, after all, while this season he has handed opportunities to a list of starlets including James Wilson, Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett - all of whom have become household names in the Premier League over recent months.
This suggests Januzaj isn’t being left out of Van Gaal’s starting line-ups because of his age or inexperience, while his talent is unquestionable, which indicates it’s his attitude or performances that could be the problem.
Certainly, Januzaj’s performance levels have been below what Van Gaal would have expected when he took the job. The veteran Dutch coach knows that his side can’t afford to carry passengers; each player is required to put in a shift and work hard for the team’s benefit rather than their own.
"I saw some reports saying I was unhappy. That couldn't be further from the truth. I love this club and I'm excited to play for this manager. The fans have been so good to me and I want to repay them." - Januzaj, September 2014.
Loan move vital
If Van Gaal feels Januzaj is still too individualistic then a loan move in January is absolutely vital for the player’s development.
Sitting on the substitutes’ bench, and playing the odd match for the Under-21 side, is doing neither him not Van Gaal any favours. It’s imperative for players of this age to be playing - anywhere - instead of watching on from the sidelines.
A long list of clubs would be more than happy to take Januzaj on loan for the second half of the season. Being outside of the Manchester United bubble would allow him to mature as a footballer and a human being before returning to Old Trafford six months later ready to re-establish himself in the Red Devils’ first team.
This is one player Van Gaal simply can’t afford to give up on.