Pressure on Januzaj could harm his Manchester United career

Adnan Januzaj (low qual)

The young winger is the talk of English football, but he now needs protection

Adnan Januzaj has undergone a transition from promising Manchester United teenager to household name in the space of a month, but the pressure on the young winger is already reaching unprecedented levels.

The Belgian youngster, who is of Kosovar-Albanian descent, has featured only nine times for United this season. Prior to his debut against Wigan Athletic in the Community Shield, Januzaj had made just 39 appearances for the under-18 and under-21 sides.

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Yet Januzaj has produced enough glimpses of talent in those matches to suggest that United may have unearthed a player of unprecedented quality.

Two world-class goals against Sunderland thrust him into the limelight, and players, pundits and managers all over the country have been waxing lyrical ever since.

Gary Neville set the ball rolling by saying Januzaj could be ‘one of the best in the world’. This week, Januzaj’s Manchester United team-mate Robin van Persie said he was ‘in the top one or two’ players he has seen.

United manager David Moyes has called on referees to offer extra protection to Januzaj, who has been the victim of some particularly heavy challenges from defenders.

But Januzaj also needs protection from those determined to label him the pin-up boy of Old Trafford: English football’s answer to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

It has happened so many times before, most recently with Raheem Sterling, who broke into the Liverpool first team in August 2012, and was handed his full England debut by Roy Hodgson just three months later – a ludicrous elevation for a player still to turn 19, and a result of English football’s collective obsession with unearthing a global superstar.

The result for Sterling has been a slow decline in performance level, and the prospect of a loan spell away from Anfield to get his still fledgling career back on track.

This has not always been the case; after making his debut for Manchester United in 1992, David Beckham had to wait almost four years to represent his country. Similarly, Nicky Butt made his United debut in the 1992-93 season, but had to wait until 1996-97 to play for England. Today’s young players are rarely afforded such time to develop.

Already the debate rages as to whether Januzaj could play for England, a premature discussion over a player who has not even made 10 appearances for his club.

He has demonstrated an admirable maturity on the pitch, and must now show the same attitude off it, under the weight of attention which will undoubtedly follow his every move.

The reality check, perhaps, came this week, and from an unexpected quarter. England Under-21 player Tom Ince, son of former Liverpool stalwart Paul. In Ince’s opinion, Januzaj would struggle to break into the England Under-21s, let alone the senior side.

“Look at Raheem Sterling, Ravel Morrison, Wilfried Zaha, myself, Saido Berahino, you’ve got Nathan Redmond too,” said Ince. “All the attacking players we have available, how’s he going to get a game?

So what you might say? He will probably start against Belgium on Tuesday. You’re right, he might - in fact he probably will.

But then again he has started the last five Japan games - and has previously been considered an automatic starter, so his absence certainly has resonance.

He seemed to lose his place to FC Nurnberg playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake - a summer target for Aston Villa if you recall.

Kagawa did get in on the action, in a game that eventually finished 2-2, coming on at half-time for Mokoto Hasebe.

But just like Javier Hernandez, once an undoubted starter that never missed the cut for his beloved Mexico, it appears that his troubles at finding first-team football at Old Trafford are now affecting his international credentials.

Kagawa has played just 258 minutes of league football this season compared to Kiyotake’s 956 - so there is no doubt which one is in the best state in regards to match fitness, and just why coach Alberto Zaccheroni decided to tell Kagawa to sit this one out on this occasion.

Kagawa has in the past lived off the good graces of the United faithful, who felt he was not given a fair crack of the whip, but he recently started against Arsenal and now has to stamp his claim on a first-team slot - leaving others in the cold and David Moyes in no doubt as to his talents.

Otherwise he might have to get used to a place on Zaccheroni’s bench.

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