Is Adnan Januzaj the odd-man out at Old Trafford?
According to reports, Manchester United starlet Adnan Januzaj is set for talks with Louis van Gaal to clarify his future at the Old Trafford club, following the team’s tactical switch and surprising summer transfer window additions.
The arrivals of superstar signings Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria have further increased competition in a squad already overcrowded with attacking talent, and Van Gaal’s recruitment drive has led many pundits to criticise United’s out-of-character approach to transfers.
Academy players such as Tom Cleverley, Tom Lawrence and Danny Welbeck are amongst a spate of players ushered to the Old Trafford exit, and there appears to be no room at the inn for youngsters Nick Powell or Wilfried Zaha.
In such a situation, with the Red Devils, who are 14/1 to win the Premier League, requiring instant results, their famed youth policy looks set to take a back seat.
United fans were expecting Januzaj, who was the squad’s breakout star last season, to accelerate his development under Van Gaal, who is also renowned for his focus on youth, and become a first-team regular.
So far, though, after missing much of pre-season following his World Cup exploits, highly-rated winger Januzaj appears to have lost his position as head boy.
Van Gaal’s implementation of the 3-4-1-2 system has left the exciting Belgium attacker out in the cold, mainly reduced to appearances in unorthodox positions, such as right wing back and central midfield.
Following Di Maria’s arrival at Old Trafford, a switch back to a 4-3-3 formation was mooted, but the acquisition of striker Falcao does not fit with this theory, seemingly leaving Van Gaal with a selection headache. It appears unlikely that one of Juan Mata, Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney will be benched in the near future, leaving little scope for Januzaj to secure a starting spot.
Januzaj, whose composure and technique made him one of the standout stars for United last campaign, reportedly rebuffed interest from elite European clubs from the continent, to sign a new contract with the Red Devils.
The 19-year-old could not be criticised if he were to now question that decision. With United failing to qualify for Europe last season, and eliminated from the Capital One Cup already, Januzaj appears unlikely to equal the 35 appearances he made in the previous campaign.
It is still early days in Van Gaal’s reign, though, and the club have indicated that Januzaj has a place in their plans by handing him the coveted number 11 shirt previously donned by Welsh wizard Ryan Giggs. Januzaj also has versatility in his favour, and it is believed that the player and United see his future as a number ten rather than as a winger.
This means Januzaj will likely be charged with displacing Mata, who has had a limited impact at Old Trafford since his transfer from Chelsea in January 2013. The recent departure of attacking midfield maestro Shinji Kagawa means Januzaj will likely act as understudy, and first-choice back up, for the Spaniard. It is now up to the brilliant Brussels-born star to prove he can offer more to the team than the £37.1m man Mata.
United, odds-on at 4/7 to finish outside the top four, have recently lost promising prospects such as Paul Pogba and Mats Moller Daehli, and will not want to end up with egg on their face again by ostracising a truly top talent such as Januzaj.
Van Gaal must be careful to find the right balance between healthy competition and an overstocked, bloated squad, or risk losing one of Europe’s most dazzling young players.