Sunday 22 October 2017

Januzaj still part of Van Gaal's plans

Manchester United have greater options now and Adnan Januzaj will be left to grow, both physically and as a footballer, in a less demanding and intense environment

Adnan Januzaj is still part of Louis Van Gaal's plans despite limited first-team appearances
Adnan Januzaj is still part of Louis Van Gaal's plans despite limited first-team appearances

Mark Ogden

Adnan Januzaj may yet celebrate the first anniversary of his full Manchester United debut with a starting position against Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday.

After all, this is a player described by one recent member of United's coaching staff as possessing the balance and flair of a young Johan Cruyff, so he is unlikely to be left kicking his heels on the sidelines for long.

But in an age of snap judgements and instant evaluations, Januzaj's absence from Louis van Gaal's team so far this season would lead some to suggest that the Belgian winger is heading for the Old Trafford scrapheap and destined to become another failed wannabe.

Rather than take centre stage this season following his stunning breakthrough campaign last year, Januzaj is having to accept a role in the shadows. Or so it seems.

The reality of the teenager's situation at United right now is somewhat different, with Van Gaal leaning heavily on the input and advice of Ryan Giggs in order to ensure that a player regarded by some at Old Trafford as the club's next home-grown superstar becomes exactly that.

Having built on his reserve team hat-trick against Sunderland two weeks ago with an audacious free-kick goal during the second string's 2-1 victory over Tottenham at Stevenage on Monday night, Januzaj is certainly knocking hard and loud on Van Gaal's door for a first-team recall.

But almost a year on from marking his first United start with both goals in a 2-1 Premier League victory at Sunderland, Januzaj's star appears to have dimmed at Old Trafford, with the prodigy shrouded out by the expensive summer recruits such as Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao.

Januzaj's reduced diet of first-team football so far this season can, however, be traced back to the final weeks of David Moyes's reign as manager last season.

From his very first week as United manager, Moyes was telling coaches and staff that Januzaj's ability during pre-season training had left him stunned and that, of all the players he had inherited from Sir Alex Ferguson, the unheralded winger with the awkward name and Kosovan roots was the most impressive of them all.

As a result, Moyes selected Januzaj in his squad for United's pre-season tour of the Far East and Australian, handing the skinny youngster his first senior outing in a game against a Thai XI in Bangkok.

Moyes continued to encourage and promote Januzaj, handing him an appearance against Wigan in the Community Shield at Wembley before being rewarded with two goals from the player in a crucial 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light.

In total, Januzaj made 32 appearances for Moyes before the Scot was sacked in April and, by that stage, coaches and senior players were voicing concerns about his over-exposure and suggesting that fatigue and burn-out were threatening to curtail his progress.

PANews_N0389441387206067297A_I1.jpg
Adnan Januzaj, right, believes David Moyes, left, will win trophies at Old Trafford

To some, Januzaj was physically and emotionally shattered as a result, not only because of the demands of a first season at senior level but also because of the pressure placed on his shoulders to deliver, having emerged as one of United's few shining lights last season.

Having followed his debut season with a trip to the World Cup with Belgium - an experience which forced him to miss United's pre-season trip to the United States - a decision was made at Old Trafford to manage Januzaj's appearances this season and nurture his progress just as Ferguson had nurtured that of Giggs two decades earlier.

Van Gaal is a huge admirer of Januzaj's talent, but Giggs has become his mentor - the former teen star now guiding his successor through the pitfalls that will undoubtedly attempt to block his path to success.

Moyes had no option but to rely so heavily on Januzaj last season. His under-performing senior players let the manager down so often that a teenager in his first campaign as a professional was left to rescue the team on a regular basis.

United have greater options now, however, and Januzaj will be left to grow, both physically and as a footballer, in a less demanding and intense environment.

But the cotton wool treatment can, and will, only last for so long.

Even at nineteen, Januzaj is dominating the Under-21 / reserve team fixtures in the same manner as a senior professional returning to fitness alongside a team of kids.

Januzaj is head-and-shoulders above his young team-mates and opponents and, physically, he has clearly developed strength and stature since first appearing on the scene.

For now, he is saying and doing the right things and accepting Van Gaal's decision to use him in the reserves.

There have also been six substitute appearances in league and cup this season - more than at the same stage last year - but at some point, Januzaj will grow frustrated unless his second string heroics are recognised and rewarded by his manager.

But with Wayne Rooney now facing three games on the sidelines due to suspension, the door has opened for Januzaj to return to the starting line-up.

Juan Mata may be the obvious option to replace Rooney against Everton this weekend, but Januzaj is regarded as a potential No 10 and Van Gaal may opt to turn to his rising star.

It may prove to be too early in Van Gaal's plan, but despite the reserve team football he is playing right now, Januzaj remains a central figure in United's plans and he is unlikely to be kept out of the picture for too long.

Telegraph.co.uk

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