How much can we ask of Adnan Januzaj right now?
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In the space of about 10 minutes during the second half against Spurs, Wayne Rooney knocked at least 4 consecutive long balls out to Adnan Januzaj on the right wing. As we were chasing the equaliser it appeared that the youngest member of the team was the ‘go-to’ guy in a time of crisis.
With a team of internationals should we be placing so much expectation on a player still only 6 months into his first season with the first team?
What kind of effect could such demands have on his overall development?
The impact of Januzaj since the start of the season has been fantastic, the level of excitement around him has been similar to the impact Ronaldo had after his debut against Bolton. Ronaldo had already had a season of first team football with Sporting Lisbon so had some experience of a first team environment. Playing alongside Ronaldo were Paul Scholes, Solskjaer, Van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane, players who were able to provide a foundation for Ronaldo to develop naturally into his role in the team. Ronaldo was not the player that the team looked to for its creative needs, he had a freedom to try his tricks and mould his all round game.
As players like Keane, Van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer moved on, Ronaldo was in more of a position to start to take on a leadership role in the team alongside Rooney as our creative forces. This happened 12/24 months into his time with the United first team and this is where Januzaj is differing to Ronaldo in terms of expectation.
The first team at this moment is not seeing what it should from the ‘senior’ players, which is placing a greater demand on instant results from Januzaj. Injuries, loss of form or players generally not being of the standard that Ronaldo developed alongside mean it’s been a much tougher baptism for Januzaj. Other than Antonio Valencia every other forward player has been missing at a time due to injury, making it difficult for Januzaj to build up ‘in game’ relationships and understanding with players.
The lack of production from other players, most notably Kagawa, Young and Nani has created a much bigger expectation on Januzaj that he has to be creating something each time he has the ball. A freedom to try things has been replaced with the demand to make something happen. A lack of real leadership in the current United team is obvious and with that Januzaj, as a player who energises the fans is being asked to spearhead the attacking charge.
Can a question be asked that the additional mental demand on Januzaj to create something every time he has the ball be having an impact on his decision making? 3 bookings for simulation highlight a worrying trend for Januzaj and one many fans have already said needs stopping. Now I’m not suggesting the current demands on Januzaj are the reason he is diving but it could be playing a role in him doing anything he can to produce an outcome for the team. If he can’t deliver a ball into the box or create a chance then there is always the chance to try and win a foul.
Would fewer demands on the player mean he doesn’t do this as often?
The big concern of course is that due to others inconsistencies and injuries Januzaj is used more and more in games, meaning the natural breaks he requires as a young player breaking through are not long enough to allow his body and mind to recover. He will have been prepared for the attention and issues associated with being the next big thing at the club but the impact of jumping into the team like he has will still need to be balanced off with periods of rest and recuperation.
A similar example of a young player making a great impact is Raheem Sterling at Liverpool last season, granted the players are very different in style. Sterling made an instant impact for Liverpool in the first half of the year but then faded away in the second half. Being used each week left Sterling needing extensive rest and it’s only recently that he has started to rediscover that early form. Januzaj may be susceptible to a similar situation if we are required to use him in the same way.
Adnan is exactly the sort of player football fans love, tricky, skillful and with bags of potential – we need to make sure we look long term in his overall development and don’t overuse him now due to the teams current difficult situation.
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