Noe Baba: I knew my mate Januzaj was special when he dazzled in Brazil
IRELAND U-19 defender Noe Baba has given a first-hand insight into why his former team-mate Adnan Januzaj is firmly on track for world football fame.
Just under two years ago, the prodigious pair were guest players for Manchester United in the U-17 Future Champions tournament staged in Brazil. Two other Irish cadets – Sam Byrne and Ryan McConnell – were also on Red Devils duty in South America and have joined Januzaj at Old Trafford.
Fulham recruit Baba – who still keeps in touch with Januzaj – knew instantly he was in the company of football gold when playing alongside him. Januzaj (18) has been fast-tracked into United's first team and David Moyes is preparing to hand him a new deal worth €50,000 per week.
Baba chose a different path by last year rejecting Alex Ferguson's offer in favour of a lucrative move to the Cottagers. Still, the Cameroon-born centre-half enjoyed the experience of playing alongside Januzaj.
"It was clear to see that Adnan was a really talented player," revealed Baba, who at the age of 10 moved with his family to Castlebar.
"United had a strong squad on that tour but Adnan could do special things with the ball. He won player of the tournament. It doesn't surprise me that he's broken into the United team so quickly.
"I was delighted to watch him scoring those two goals against Sunderland."
Baba had encountered the Januzaj before they hooked up at United – it was while on trial at neighbours Manchester City that they had first met.
While Januzaj has rebuffed offers of international football for now, fuelling speculation he will declare for Albania, Baba is centrally involved in pushing Ireland towards of next summer's U-19 European Championship finals in Hungary. Currently in Sweden with the squad, they face Bosnia and Herzegovina today (1.0) already assured of progression from the first phase qualification group.
Two wins from two against Azerbaijan and the mini-group hosts secured them top spot in the four-nation group.
IRELAND U-19 (probable) – E Grimes (Leeds Utd); S Long (Reading), N Baba (Fulham), K McFadden (Norwich City), B Moseley (Birmingham City); T Mulroney (St. Patrick's Ath), A Browne (Cork City), S McCarthy (Sunderland); L Kelly (Reading), A O'Sullivan (Aberdeen), A O'Hanlon (Liverpool).