Adnan Januzaj, the young prodigy who’s firing up English football

With both Belgian and Albanian nationalities, Manchester United’s young attacking midfielder could theoretically have chosen to represent three other countries. At 18, he scored a delicious double on Saturday, during his first match as a starter.

“Adnan? He’s an admirable and perfectly balanced player. He’s only 18 but he is progressing incredibly quickly. He has good acceleration and is an extremely technical player.” When an icon of Sir Alex Ferguson’s stature delivers this kind of compliment to a young man barely out of adolescence, you shut up and enjoy it, especially if its recipient, the much-vaunted Adnan Januzaj, may one day be part of Belgium’s national side. The young man, who scored his first two Premier League goals during his first match as a starter at Sunderland – just like Ruud van Nistelrooy – on Saturday, undoubtedly hadn’t forgotten the encouraging words offered a few months ago by the man who was for 27 seasons the Mancunians’ permanent manager.

 

Born in Belgium of Albanian and Kosovar parents, Manchester United’s new phenomenon had already sat on the substitutes’ bench last season, against WBA. This campaign, new manager David Moyes had previously played him in pre-season friendlies, during which he put in some convincing performances, before bringing him on during the Community Shield against Wigan on August 11 (for 7 minutes), in the League Cup against Liverpool (17 minutes) and twice in the league versus Crystal Palace (23 minutes) and WBA (45 minutes) last week. Saturday, he was handed a spot in the starting line-up for the first time and proceeded to single-handedly save his team from disaster with a decisive brace, first firing home an equalizer with his right foot, then steering the ball into the back of the net with a controlled left-footed volley. What talent! “We were there at the birth of a future star!” an English tabloid wrote, putting a picture of the baby-faced player, just 18 years and 8 months old, on the front page. He’s a kid with feet of gold who attended Anderlecht’s youth academy prior to leaving for England for an estimated £297,000, when he was only 16.

 

Today, everyone wants a piece of this phenomenon, “who can dream about following in the footsteps of Wayne Rooney, whose career I launched while at Everton,” explains David Moyes, his manager at United. Not included on the list provided to UEFA to play in the Champions League, Januzaj’s contract will end at the end of the season. Will he sign a new and lucrative contract at Old Trafford? Or will he respond to the tempting offers of the other prestigious clubs that are interested in him, including Manchester City, Real Madrid and Chelsea? As for his international future, Januzaj, who has always refused Belgian and Albanian call-ups for various age categories, might also opt for Serbia or Turkey, through family heritage, or even for England if he decides to wait until February 2018. Even the English manager, Roy Hodgson, says he has fallen under this young man’s spell. Januzaj will have to learn to live with pressure.

 

VINCENT JOSEPHY

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