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Opinion Piece

We need to talk about Adnan

70921.3Just under a year ago, on a cold winter night at the Britannia – the proverbial “wet Tuesday night at Stoke”, if you wish – United clinched a spot in the League Cup semifinal after a 2-0 win.

The game, as dull an affair as any under David Moyes, has probably been largely forgotten by many of the neutrals, but thinking of that night must bring a smile to the faces of those who were in the away end.

Not because we ended up soaked to our bones courtesy of a hail storm, but because of the sheer bedlam that unfolded in the concourse, where a chant that had been only recently added to United’s songbook was given a thunderous rendition.

It spoke of “a boy who can do anything”.

Football fans are prone to get carried away and suggesting a player could do anything is obviously a rather bold statement to make but, last season, Adnan Januzaj really seemed capable to do whatever he wanted on a football pitch.

Having made his debut against Crystal Palace in September, Januzaj was awarded his first start less than a month later, scoring twice as United came back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 at Sunderland. A star, many thought, was born.

Technically gifted, fleet-footed and displaying the swagger sure to endorse a player to reds up and down the country, Januzaj was a beacon of light in a season of deep, frightening darkness.

In his debut season, the Belgian played 36 games in all competitions, 19 of which were starts, scoring four goals and assisting a further six – an excellent return considering United endured their worst-ever season in two decades, stumbling around like a man who’s been on a 24-hour bender.

Louis Van Gaal’s arrival at Old Trafford looks to have finally sobered things up but, ironically, Januzaj appears to be suffering from a devastating hangover.

The Belgian has started only four games this season and has completed 90 minutes only twice – admittedly, he was unlucky to be replaced after Chris Smalling got himself sent off against Manchester City – and has remained rooted to the bench for three of the last four games, playing less than 120 seconds when he came on against Stoke.

This season, everything seemed to be poised for Januzaj to continue his rise: a new manager with a tradition of developing young players, a new, more expansive, brand of football and even Ryan Giggs’ number 11 shirt on his shoulders.

Surely, a player who had managed to emerge from the ruins of Moyes’ tenure would relish the chance to work under the manager responsible for developing the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller into the world class players we all know?

Furthermore, the arrival of talents like Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Radamel Falcao was expected to intensify competition for a place in the first XI, a factor often pivotal in the development of a young player.

Januzaj, however, has failed to impress. Van Gaal’s need to almost constantly reshuffle his team hasn’t helped the 19-year-old, who can’t be deployed as wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation nor, seemingly at least, in a diamond midfield, where Van Gaal has preferred Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera alongside one between Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick.

Not surprisingly, the only two occasions in which Januzaj played the full 90 minutes, against Chelsea and West Brom, saw United adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Di Maria, Januzaj and Mata behind Van Persie but, crucially, without the suspended Rooney.

Given Van Gaal has reiterated of important to his plans the latter is and given that Van Persie looks to be rediscovering the form of old, United might well bin the 4-2-3-1 experiment, particularly as Van Gaal has repeatedly stated his intention to play with two strikers. That could limit Januzaj’s first team opportunities even further, unless the United manager decides to mould him into a different player, asking him to adapt to a different role.

After all, during his spell at Bayern Munich, the former Holland manager converted Schweinsteiger from a promising right winger to a dominant central midfielder. Januzaj’s talent is unquestionable and it’d be shame to see him not fulfil his potential at United and while worrying about his future might be premature, it won’t be long until some questions will begin to be asked.

The “boy who can do anything” might well have to everything he can if he wants to break into the first team again.