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Has Man United’s Januzaj proven his worth?

Januzaj’s progress may have stalled for a spell, but he remains a shimmering talent

Published: Updated:

It wasn’t so much a statement of faith in Adnan Januzaj, rather an indictment of mistrust in Angel Di Maria.

But by coming on at half-time the previous Saturday for Manchester United’s most expensive player, the Belgian 20-year-old underlined his status as one of the brightest young talents in European football.

Januzaj’s display in the 2-0 on Feb. 28 win over Sunderland continued a pattern of recent good form, although his assist for Wayne Rooney’s second goal was his first of the season.

But it’s not so long ago that the Belgian seemed to be on his way out of Old Trafford.

Louis Van Gaal has taken some convincing over the 20-year-old’s true quality.

Januzaj was afforded just four starts by the Dutchman over the first half of the season, with reports suggesting the winger could be shipped out on loan, or sold to long-time admirers Paris Saint-Germain.

But United chose to persevere with Januzaj, and Saturday’s performance showed that they were right to do so.

The Belgian is still developing and learning, and by keeping him Van Gaal has recognized as much.

Januzaj’s progress may have stalled for a spell, but he remains a shimmering talent of the highest order.

Given the lethargic nature of his performances, Van Gaal was entitled to sideline Januzaj for much of the first half of the season.

Indeed, it took the youngster until February to register either a goal or an assist.

This has been a difficult second season for the one highlight of David Moyes’ ill-fated tenure at Man United.

Yet such a stagnation should have been expected. It is in the nature of young talent to learn through the experience of their mistakes, and poor performances.

Even Cristiano Ronaldo, the player who sets a better precedent than anyone else for those looking to fulfil their potential at Old Trafford, suffered dramatic dips in form over his formative years.

The two-time Ballon d’Or winner failed to take his goal tally into double figures in his second season as a United player, just as Januzaj looks set to.

It’s true that the Belgian’s breakthrough season at United won’t sustain him forever, but that doesn’t mean that the true impact of it should be forgotten.

Januzaj’s astonishing debut season as a senior Man United player shouldn’t be quantified by statistics and numbers - given that he only scored four times in 35 appearances - and thus it would be unfair to judge him on as much this season.

His standard might have been some way below that of which he set last season, but his recent resurgence emphasizes just how committed he is to achieving what he promised under Moyes.

Gradually the Belgian seems to be casting off the restrictions of second season syndrome.

Of course, Januzaj isn’t the only player to have struggled in adapting to Van Gaal’s philosophy and methods either.

Perhaps only three United squad members - Daley Blind, David De Gea and Ashley Young - have improved under the Dutchman’s stewardship. The rest have stood still, or even worse regressed.

Radamel Falcao was handed a starting spot for the match against Sunderland, but the Colombian has already suffered the indignation of first-team exile this season after a series of poor performances.

Di Maria was hooked at half-time on Saturday for under-performing too, with Januzaj the beneficiary of the Argentine’s shortfall.

“I want to win. I have to observe and analyze,” explained Van Gaal after the win over Sunderland. “We were better in the second half so I cannot say it was the wrong decision.”

Januzaj’s introduction certainly altered the dynamic of the game, as United imposed themselves on what had been a somewhat awkward contest.

“He was terrific,” gushed fellow wide-man Ashley Young. “As a winger, you want to get the ball and run at your full-back. He did exactly that, did exactly what the boss asked him to do at half-time. It was a great performance by him.”

The 20-year-old finds himself challenged by the demands and practices of Van Gaal, but it could ultimately serve him well - as demonstrated by his game-changing display against Sunderland.

Januzaj might never live up to his billing as Man United’s next Ronaldo, but the Old Trafford club would be foolish not to gamble on the slight chance that he will.