Stardom in a blink

Stardom in a blink

He has the face of a schoolboy, the wispy body of a youth and a future that five countries are hoping to claim for their national teams.  Adnan Januzaj showed in a recent English Premier League game why everybody wanted him.

In Manchester United’s starting lineup for the first time, Januzaj did what no other player —not Wayne Rooney nor Robin van Persie —  could manage to do at Sunderland. With United trailing by a goal, Januzaj scored the equaliser with his right foot. And then he had the cold nerve and the inborn skill to score with his other foot to win the game, 2-1.

 Both goals were volleyed. Both combined immaculate technique and timing.
On the first goal, arriving 10 minutes into the second half, Januzaj made the opening and converted the chance. He spun the ball out wide to the left wing and called for Patrice Evra to return it to him in the penalty area. Evra, an experienced Frenchman, obeyed his command, and Januzaj moved swiftly onto the ball and, using the instep of his right foot, cushioned it high into the net from about 40 feet away.

That will live with him throughout his career: his first goal with the senior team of the world-renowned Manchester United.

 Yet it was eclipsed by what came six minutes later. The match was still in doubt. United was still not playing with the fluidity or the control befitting its status as the Premier League champion against a Sunderland team at the bottom of the league.
 Januzaj, then, transcended his team in his own debut.

The ball had been crossed from the right and headed out by a defender. It was still in the air when Januzaj set himself for the volley.

A ballet star could not have had greater poise or balance than he showed. He stood with his right foot planted on the ground, his arms spread artistically. And with the full extension of his left leg, he struck through the ball with such sweet timing that his shot rose beyond the goalkeeper’s reach into the far top corner of the goal.

He did not so much as smile when the big names of United mobbed him. The boy who turned 18 in February had the air of a man doing a job, an almost solemn, private face upon a slender frame that has yet to develop muscle on the bone.

 “We weren’t shocked,” United’s much-traveled 32-year-old midfielder, Michael Carrick, said after the final whistle. "We’ve seen it from Adnan in pre-season. He looked a proper player then.

 “I was telling him at half-time to get in the box a bit more. He’s got great ability, great attitude. He could become anything he wants to be.”
What Januzaj wants from his sport is, like his physique, not yet fully formed.
He was born in Brussels, to parents from Kosovo and Albania. Guided by his father, Januzaj has resisted, so far, invitations from Belgium to play for its youth teams. His agent said that the family was waiting to see what the future might hold for the Albanian national squad.

Serbia and Turkey too interested

And there are requests by some in Serbia and in Turkey for Januzaj to play for their national teams because his grandparents hailed from those countries. And England, looking for its first World Cup title since 1966, is hopeful that if no other nation has secured Januzaj by the time he completes his five-year residency requirement in February 2018, he could become a full international player there.

But one performance is not the catalyst for all this expectation. The evidence of his talent has grown ever since he was a fledgling in the academy of Anderlecht, the Belgian club that United plucked him from when he was first eligible to sign at 16.
Alex Ferguson, now retired, was the United manager then. David Moyes, the new manager, was responsible for giving Rooney his first-team debut at Everton when Rooney was 16.

Moyes also groomed Ross Barkley, 20, a rising star for Everton who is on the verge of joining the England side.

 There lies the difference. Rooney and Barkley seemed to skip youth, at least in the physical sense. They were sturdy, muscular adolescents.

 Januzaj is, to use Ferguson’s phrase, still growing into his body. Yet he clearly has command of his movement, and a very special awareness of how to use the talent he was born with. Right now, because of the transition that came with United’s change of team management, there is uncertainty about his future.

 United will try to secure him beyond the remaining year on his contract, but others, including Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus and Manchester City, might make him a better offer. One reason United may prevail is Ryan Giggs.

Giggs was a teenage wonder when he made his debut at United 22 years ago. He emerged as swift and as balanced as Januzaj in the Sunderland game.

 Couple of weeks ago, Giggs, now almost 40, made a record 151st appearance in European soccer, and he could reach 1,000 first-team games for United.

 Now a player-coach to the team, Giggs is a sounding board for the new player in his own position. But when Giggs was even younger than Januzaj is now, he chose to represent Wales rather than England. Consequently, Giggs never played on the World Cup stage.

 Januzaj is one of 13 Belgians playing in the Premier League, and he could, if he wishes, play in the World Cup in Brazil next year.

 “Adnan is already right up there,” Moyes said. “He was in the reserves till recently, and we’ll keep his feet on the ground.”

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