Youth football is always great to watch. We get to track the growth of the superstars of tomorrow and gush about who we think is destined for the top. Unfortunately the stark reality is that a majority of the reserves and academy players will not go on to be club legends, especially if they belong to a big club. There are notable exceptions but by and large the bigger the club, the harder it is to break into the 1st team. There are however a few players who come along and wow all the interested parties. You just simply know that they’re going to make it. Manchester United’s youngster Adnan Januzaj is one such player.
Adnan Januzaj is an 18 year-old with some serious cultural heritage. Born in Belgium, Januzaj is eligible to play for a variety of countries through his parents and grandparents namely Belgium, Albania, Serbia, Turkey and a yet to be recognized by FIFA, Kosovo. There’s been plenty of talk about him maybe representing England but let’s not waste time discussing that here.
Starting out at FC Brussels, Januzaj was snapped up by Anderlecht at the age of 10. He spent 6 years at the Anderlecht academy before Manchester United came calling. He quickly progressed through the ranks at United and it was last season that he really caught the eye of a lot of United fans.
His good form for the Manchester United Reserves was rewarded by the awarding of the Denzil Haroun Reserve Team Player of the Year (United’s annual award for the best reserve player of the season) and a place on the bench in Sir Alex’s last game against West Brom.
Januzaj had an early chance to impress new manager David Moyes in pre-season and he did just that. Along with Lingard and Zaha, Januzaj showed what he was capable of albeit in the noncompetitive atmosphere of pre-season. Moyes though seemed to have been impressed with what he saw and Januzaj made his League debut against Crystal Palace coming off the bench. This was followed by his 1st start earlier this month against Sunderland; a memorable one in which United overturned a 1 goal deficit by virtue of a brace from Januzaj. He recently signed a new 5 year contract with United ending speculation linking him to a move to various clubs including Manchester City and Juventus.
Adnan Januzaj featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014. He was at #9 in our list of midfielders. See the entire list here. The Belgian was also given the award of Debutant of the Season in our inaugural #TalentRadar Young Player Awards.
Januzaj is a left footed attacking player capable of playing in multiple positions. Although his appearances this season for the 1st team have been mainly limited to the wide areas, he is certainly capable of playing behind the striker in the coveted number 10 role. He is equally comfortable playing as a more conventional winger on the left and as an inverted winger on the right.
Let’s start off with his strengths and there are a fair few to enumerate on namely technical ability, vision, awareness and balance on the ball. His style of play is an exciting one which has impressed many a Manchester United fan and more importantly David Moyes. He seems to love taking the ball and running at defenders as shown by the graphic below:
He attempted 7 take-ons in the game against Sunderland, 5 of which were successful. This not only portrays his dribbling acumen but also the confidence he exudes on the pitch. After all we are talking about an 18 year old with just 235 minutes of Premier League football under his belt playing for a side under pressure due to a far from scintillating start to the season. Januzaj was thrown into the deep end and thus far he’s passed with flying colours. As the old adage goes, “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”.
His afore mentioned vision and technical ability team up to make him a dangerous player across the pitch. His knack of picking out balls that could split the best of defences is what enables him to be potent in the number 10 role as was evident in the great through ball he played for Rooney against Southampton which lead to Robin van Persie’s goal.
A trait of Januzaj which sometimes tends to go unnoticed is the burst of acceleration that he possesses in his armoury. The reason is that he isn’t over-reliant on this attribute unlike a few of the other players in his age group. The combination of his pace and ability to float past defenders adds a new dimension to United’s attack making him a difficult player to defend against.
Another striking aspect about the former Anderlecht man is his maturity on the pitch. His confidence has already been touched upon but something that I found to be even more impressive was his footballing brain. Subtle qualities like how he creates space for himself and his use of different angles on the pitch is a joy to behold.
To be likened to David Beckham on the basis of set piece ability is a big deal for any young player. While these comparisons don’t do justice to Beckham’s dead ball ability, they’re a tribute to Januzaj’s standard of delivery.
In terms of goals, Januzaj is certainly capable of the spectacular (exhibit A: that volley against Sunderland) and certainly isn’t shy of taking shots on. Despite his brace against Sunderland though, in my opinion his shooting can definitely improve.
Another aspect of his game that needs to improve is his decision making. His dribbling is outstanding but sometimes he tends to try and take on 1 man too many. This is understandable and could be put down to youthful exuberance but to nail a place down in the starting XI, he’ll have to curtail such errors. Picking when to try a high risk, high reward pass and when to hold onto versus when to release the ball are all things that can improve and undoubtedly will given time.
One thing that I found surprising is that over the course of the 2 league games that he’s featured in, he’s attempted a paltry 2 crosses both of which were unsuccessful. He’s hardly a left winger who’ll hug the touchline throughout the game and whip in ball after ball but given his set piece ability, an increase in the number of crosses could add another dimension to his game.
As you’d expect at 18 years old, his physical development is still not complete. The unforgiving tempo of Premier League games can take a toll on players. Januzaj has visibly tired towards the end of games and Moyes will be aware of the fact that he’ll have to manage him carefully.
“He stood out because of his technical skills, his protection of the ball, the fact that he is always standing up, that he has a fantastic sense of the game.”
– Jean Kinderman, Head of Youth at Anderlecht
“Watching Adnan reminds me of when players like Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman were coming through at United. You just know they have huge quality. I’ve seen him a lot for the reserves and he’s always impressed me with his control, movement and skill”
– Wilf McGuiness, ex-Manchester United player and manager
“He is an outstanding talent. His balance, poise and ability to beat players is truly exceptional for a boy of his age.”
– David Moyes, Manchester United manager
What do you think of Adnan Januzaj? Will he go on to become a United great? Let us know by dropping a comment below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter @OOTB_football and like us on Facebook. We’re on Google+ and Tumblr as well for those interested. View Adnan Januzaj’s SoccerWiki Profile.