Back in 2011, then-Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson bought Adnan Januzaj from Anderlecht at the age of 16 after impressing scouts in a skill session in Brussels.
In 2013, at the age of 18, Janzaj made his debut for the first team in the Community Shield and when he scored twice in his first competitive start against Sunderland, it seemed that greatness beckoned. Since then a lot has happened. He was sold by Manchester United, has played for three different clubs, scored a goal at the World Cup and has become a promising player forgotten by the masses. But can Januzaj climb the mountain to the top or will he be another example of promising talent gone missing?
From a sizzling start to stalling seasons
In his first full season as a professional, Januzaj scored four and assisted three goals under the guidance of David Moyes who seemed to have full belief in the playmaker. It was an impressive start for the teenager especially when you consider he was also producing 1.1 key passes per 90 and with 81.6% pass accuracy. He was also winning free kicks in dangerous areas and completing 1.9 dribbles per 90, overall the young Belgian was off to a great start in his career and impressing pundits and his peers.
In 2014 when Louis Van Gaal took over Manchester United, it was clear he didn’t appreciate the talents the playmaker had at his disposal and a change in formation spelt the beginning of the end for Januzaj.
Playing only 850 minutes in the 2014/15 season and not scoring or assisting a single goal the writing was on the wall and a move to Borussia Dortmund seemed a good way to kick start his promising career in 2015/16. Januzaj’s time in Germany, however, didn’t go as planned. Only three league starts came and his loan spell was ended early by the German giants, a loss of form and injuries hindered him adapting to the Bundesliga and he began to be viewed by many as a player who may not make the big time after all.
A spell at Sunderland followed in 2016/17 in their ill-fated season when they finally got relegated from the Premier League. He did, however, amass more minutes whilst at the Black Cats, assisting three goals albeit in a team struggling for form and consistency. This previously viewed future star was now deemed surplus to requirements by new Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and a move to Spain beckoned.
Januzaj moved to Real Sociedad in La Liga in the summer of 2017 in a move which the diminutive Belgium playmaker needed to work to kick start his stalling career and he didn’t disappoint. Januzaj scored four and assisted six in all competitions in the Basque country which was a goal contribution every 3.4 games, and his best return since his debut campaign at Manchester United. In fact, across the board, his stats had risen back to the level they were at the Premier League giants. Januzaj thrived on getting more game time and with that came better performances.
Excellent on the ball, Januzaj is currently in the top five players in Europe for dribbles per game, dominating games down the right flank of Sociedad he’s showing that not only his confidence is growing but he’s also receiving more of the ball now he is improving as a player. He is has become a defender’s nightmare as he can go on the inside or outside of the opposing fullback due to him being comfortable on both feet and his outstanding balance whilst on the ball. This also leads to him winning plenty of fouls in dangerous areas which can be a very useful weapon with set pieces winning many a football game.
Even though Januzaj is guilty of holding onto the ball a little too long at times he does play with his head up trying to look for the final ball, with 1.5 key passes per 90 and 2.3 crosses per 90 it shows he is keen to assist others within the team. Although his pass success rate has dropped this season it still stands at a respectable 75.3%. However, the drop in this area could be down to him attempting riskier through balls and key passes which have been cut out by the opposition.
What lies ahead
For his age, the Belgian is developing nicely. From the days of his various loan spells, he’s improving in every single area of his game. He is also a standout for his age range of players who have made moves to leagues abroad, showing he isn’t as much of a lost cause as people would like you to think.
To develop into the true top tier player everybody thought he could be when he first broke onto the scene at Old Trafford, he still needs to improve off the ball in defensive areas and improve his end product, especially in front of goal. All of this though may still come. At 24, he is still young and developing and it’s encouraging to see not only his game improving but how important he has become to the team.
It’s no coincidence that when Januzaj was missing through injury at the start of the season Sociedad had only picked up two wins and sat 14th in La Liga. He is also currently Sociedad’s best performer this season according to website whoscored averaging a 7.18 per game. In a couple of seasons, if Januzaj continues his development you could see him move to a top tier team in Europe, he would then be in his prime years as a player and could finally become the player everybody thought he would be when they first laid eyes on him.