Thursday, 9 January 2014

Januzaj - The Burgeoning Genius

This is, slowly but surely, turning out to be one of the most intriguing Premiership seasons in many a long year. I know that TV commentators are contractually obliged to refer to every season as the 'best season ever' but, this year, they may very well be right. Every season better than the last no matter how wonderful the previous year was. Football can never be worse or less interesting. It is the law.

There are so many intriguing stories that would, on their own, be worthy of our attention. The most obvious, and most important, is Moyes' struggle against the dead weight of history.

Arsenal fans will point to the validation of Wenger. After years of mockery it seems, despite many disbelieving fans and commentators, that Arsenal may win the league. Commentators keep setting Arsenal challenges that they must meet to be considered challengers. Time and again they meet the challenge. The commentator, however, raises the bar once more.

Wenger is in a Mexican Stand-Off with a new contender and a returning foe.

Mourinho and his Chelsea - a genius who has convinced us all that a team containing Oscar, Willian and Hazard is grinding out wins whilst not playing well (re-watch Chelsea versus Liverpool and you will see this is bunk).

In Manchester there is Pellegrini's Manchester City. Has there ever been a team that terrifies opponents the way City do at home? There is something astonishing about what they do to teams at the Etihad.

Below those three there are the swinging teams of Merseyside where both sides of Stanley park seem to be rocking and justifiably so. Liverpool playing fine football centred around the brilliance of Suarez and Everton, tellingly, not missing Moyes at all and watching Barkley twinkle. Spurs, laughable old Spurs, Spurs which have hounded out a manager and who were humiliated at home by Liverpool are two points behind the Reds.

This close race is what many will focus on. The better amongst us will focus on the tales that this season is giving.

The tale that is perhaps most interesting though isn't just Moyes' struggle but what that is doing to Manchester United and how he is responding.

Some doom-mongers are suggesting that the end of Manchester United is nigh. That this season is United's version of Liverpool's early 1990s. Too many are gleefully (and no doubt understandably) feasting hungrily on the corpse of the beast. If I've learnt anything these past twenty years of watching football it is: don't write off Manchester United. Yes, there are problems. Yes, the job that Moyes has got is too big for almost anyone in football (and it will likely eat him) but there is every chance that somehow they find their way back into the top four. There is every chance - as Benitez and di Matteo show us - that it is possible to power a sub-par team not shining in the league to European glory. It may seem laughable. So, no doubt, did the idea in January 2005 that Liverpool would win the Champions League. So, no doubt, did the idea that Chelsea in 2012 would find their way past this Barcelona and this Bayern Munich.

One man though personifies the job that Moyes has found himself in: Adnan Januzaj. There are fine talents appearing across the English game - Sterling, Barkley, Shaw et al - but there is something about Januzaj. That the Champions of England, the latest in a procession of Champions, are reliant upon a boy tells us more than results ever could. It tells us a lot about the club. It tells us a lot about the boy.

Rooney has been superb for Manchester United but, alongside the Scouser's relentless brilliance, increasingly this 18-year-old wonder is important to Manchester United. It is telling that he is providing more thrust, creativity and incisiveness than more experienced players like Nani, Cleverley, Kagawa, Young and Valencia. Ask any Manchester United fan who they would trust to save a game from the fangs of defeat and most would answer 'Januzaj'.

There is something wonderfully old fashioned about Januzaj. The sort of slight player that pro whey was supposed to destroy. There is something ethereal, ghostlike even about him yet there is more to this waif than meets the eye: precision passing allied with vision beyond his years, delicate touch, a sprinter's pace and that cold-eyed arrogance that truly talented youngsters always have. Januzaj is an all-round talent and one that is helping Rooney carry a team. For all the worrying about United, they are five points behind Liverpool. The end of the world might seem nigh but it probably isn't - largely, I would contend, down to Januzaj and Rooney.

Some will argue that it is wrong - even worrying - to burden such a talent so early in his career. They will contend that depending upon Januzaj is the wrong way to nurture such a talent, the burden is too great, that it will lead to burnout. They will argue he cannot deal with the pressure.

What is, perhaps, most remarkable about Januzaj isn't just that he seeks out this responsibility but, rather, Manchester United's players look to him. Many players hide in struggling teams. Januzaj neither wants nor has that option.

Manchester United miss Ferguson. They miss Scholes more than has been recognised. In Januzaj they have that rarity - a teenager who dominates a team and who the team look to for salvation. People will remember Cruyff famously shouted and pointed at his elders as a teenager for Ajax as he understood the game better than those men. There is something of Cruyff in Januzaj. He may not be as gifted but there is a glint of that wily old Dutchman in the youngster.

It may be the case that Moyes brings in talent that brings the Manchester United midfield back to life. It may be the return of Carrick and van Persie improve the team. It may be that Moyes' fabled 'run in' helps the team into the Champions League. Regardless, I doubt whatever Moyes does that Januzaj's role will recede.


1 comment:

dearieme said...

Last season's EPL was pretty disappointing: a poor ManU won because everyone else, most tellingly City, were even poorer. This season is far more interesting: you could even add Southampton to the list of fun-givers, though it's a great pity that Swansea have dwindled somewhat.

As for ManU -
Nani has always been erratic,
Cleverley's promise seems not to have developed,
Young is an old disappointment,
Kagawa is a new disappointment, and Valencia seems to have lost form.

But the big telltale is the resurrection of Scholes, the declared immortality of Giggs, and the attempt to turn Jones into a midfielder. That tells you where they should have bought but haven't. All the teams above them have one or more midfielders who is/are substantially superior to anyone on United's books. If they want a good player midseason who isn't cup-tied in Europe, is experienced in the EPL, and is at a club that isn't really competing for the top four, they could look at Cabaye.