Cast your mind back to 2013. Manchester United face a trip to the Stadium of Light to face a Sunderland side who predictably find themselves at the foot of the Premier League table.
David Moyes had endured a tough few opening months in his tenure as United boss, taking just seven points from six games. After three defeats in four games – a run which included a humiliating home defeat to West Brom – the United boss desperately turned to 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj in a bid to win over the already doubting fans.
And wow, did he deliver. The Belgium-born winger produced two cultured finishes – one with the right foot and a superb volley with the left – to dig United out of an almighty hole and take all three points back to Old Trafford.
Cue the plaudits. Moyes described Januzaj as ‘one of the best young talents in Europe’, saying he has ‘a bit of Chris Waddle in him’ and even went as far as to compare him to a young Wayne Rooney.
Fast forward to the present day and Januzaj has amassed a whopping 18 career league goals, has just 12 international caps – admittedly competing for a spot in a star-studded Belgium squad – and has seen out the full 90 minutes just twice for Real Sociedad this season.
More Chris Kamara than Chris Waddle, ey Moyesy?
The sad fact is that Januzaj was a ‘get out of jail free card’ for Moyes. There was talent in the youngster’s boots, undoubtably. You don’t get signed up by the United academy without talent.
However, whereas Sir Alex Ferguson before him had nurtured players, given them time to develop and settle into the league, Moyes didn’t afford the youngster the same opportunity.
Fergie knew all about Januzaj’s talent. After all, it was he who introduced the winger into the first team set-up, naming him on the United bench in his final game in charge – the 5-5 jaw-dropper against West Brom.
Had Fergie stayed on as United boss, there isn’t a chance Januzaj would have been thrown into the deep end just seven games into the following season like Moyes did. He’d have named him on the bench most of the season, given him a few cameo roles and a few starts in the cups.
Instead, the 18-year-old would feature in 25 of United’s remaining 31 league games following his full-debut at Sunderland.
Moyes was desperate. United were going nowhere fast and ultimately finished 25 points worse off than they had the previous season, dropping from champions to an unthinkable seventh place in the league. United hadn’t finished lower than third in Fergie’s 21 Premier League seasons in charge.
But like any fanbase, the United following love an academy graduate. Januzaj was Moyes’ only hope. If he could convince the Old Trafford faithful that, despite the team’s retched performances, they had an academy graduate who looked the business and would go on to be a superstar, he might be given another year.
And so, into the deep end the youngster went.
Football federations engaged in a tug of war over the winger, with Belgium, England and Albania all desperate for Januzaj to commit to them. To put this into context, all these plaudits and all this fighting came after he had scored a brace at bottom of the table Sunderland.
The youngster had been thrown under the bus by Moyes. After the Sunderland game he should have been downplaying him, saying he had a lot to learn, but instead he was comparing him to Wayne Rooney.
Obviously, the expectation was too much for young shoulders.
Having scored just two goals in that season following his Sunderland ‘heroics’, Januzaj was handed the number 11 shirt from the retiring Ryan Giggs – seriously, give the lad a break.
He would fail to score a single goal the following campaign and was shipped out on loan to Borussia Dortmund.
After just three starts for Dortmund he was recalled by United and ironically loaned out to Sunderland, where he again failed to score a single league goal as the club finally succumbed to the inevitable and dropped out of England’s top tier.
In 2017, Januzaj’s dream of making it at Old Trafford was finally quashed and he moved to Spanish side Real Sociedad – oddly enough Moyes’ old employers – where he’s a regular in the squad if not the starting XI.
Since his 15 minutes of fame at the Stadium of Light, Januzaj’s career highlight has probably been his winner against England in Belgium’s final group game of the 2018 World Cup. A game which was a dead rubber and ultimately handed his team an unfavourable draw. Good work, Adnan.
So the next time you get annoyed because you hear a manager playing down a youngster’s chances when you know deep down he’s bursting with excitement at how good he’ll be, just spare a thought for Adnan Januzaj.