Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 31 October 2020

Adnan Januzaj finally looking like the star turn at Real Sociedad after a career of cameos

Former Manchester United teen prodigy, now 25, is playing key role as Real Sociedad reach Copa del Rey final and sit sixth in La Liga

Adnan Januzaj, left, and Alexander Isak of Real Sociedad celebrate after beating Mirandes on Wednesday to reach the Copa del Rey final. Getty
Adnan Januzaj, left, and Alexander Isak of Real Sociedad celebrate after beating Mirandes on Wednesday to reach the Copa del Rey final. Getty

Adnan Januzaj has played enough big stages, on and off, that every opponent will have revised how to anticipate his favourite manoeuvre.

It starts from wide on the right and the first instinct is to shift to his favoured foot, his left, while calculating the angles for a sight of goal. When he is in form and confident, the gap need not be too wide.

Nor – as Januzaj showed on the not-so-grand stage of the Estadio Municipal de Anduva, in Miranda del Ebro, a little south of Bilbao, on Wednesday night – need the angle look generous.

Januzaj’s was very tight as he leaned from right to left and powered a looping, ambitious effort at goal just into the second half of Real Sociedad’s Copa del Rey semi-final against Mirandes.

To gasps around the stadium, he beat the probabilities, beat the goalkeeper and smiled wistfully as his shot pinged back off the Mirandes crossbar.

His team, la Real, were already two goals ahead on aggregate against their lower-division opponents, and by the end of the evening, Januzaj had completed a man-of-the-match display to shepherd his club into their first Spanish Cup final for 32 years.

La Real are having a superb season, and they will take their dashing, bold football to Camp Nou this weekend chasing a place in La Liga’s top four. They are a point shy of it with a game in hand on the clubs immediately above them in the table.

Januzaj, who turned 25 last month, has too often been a footballer of cameos. That trademark cut-back, onto his left foot, to launch shots of greater power than might be expected from a young man of such slight, wiry build, is one.

Its most famous outing was the goal that lit up a World Cup, the winner for Belgium versus England in Kaliningrad in 2018. Januzaj was only 23 then, already at his second World Cup and with a three-way conflict over which international team – he was eligible for Albania or Kosovo through his family, and his native Belgium – he would represent as part of his eventful backstory.

As a teenaged prodigy, with a bewitching way of gliding past defenders, he was a kid many ambitious clubs wanted. Manchester United, who had scooped him away from Anderlecht at aged 16, hurriedly had him sign a five-year contract within two weeks of his first start for United.

Some start it had been; He scored both goals in a 2-1 win against Sunderland. He was 18. Nine months later, he was given United’s number 11 jersey, freshly vacated by the retiring Ryan Giggs.

Safe to report, Januzaj never truly made that shirt his own. After all the hype and extravagant promise, he plateaued and after 24 Premier League starts in two-and-half seasons spent mainly watching from the sidelines United’s post-Alex Ferguson decline, he was shipped off on loans.

Borussia Dortmund, celebrated hothouse for rising talent, quickly decided Januzaj would not fit long-term. Their then manager Thomas Tuchel criticised his attitude, and put him in the starting XI just three times before curtailing the loan after six months.

At that stage, the beginning of 2016, Januzaj’s career had hit the rocks, ready to be filed as a parable of too-much-too-young, and as a footnote to United’s various under-achievements and misjudgments of the period. But he would learn in time that to fade at modern United need not be terminal.

Any number of footballers, from Memphis Depay, to Romelu Lukaku to Chris Smalling could reassure him of that.

After a season on loan with Sunderland, Januzaj joined Real Sociedad in the summer of 2017. There have been ups and downs there, too, some during this season.

He lost his starting place for a time at la Real, and his place in the Belgian hierarchy suffered as a result. In November, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez appeared to aim a spiky message when he dropped Januzaj and said: “He needs to be playing more. Talent on its own is not enough. You have to have the mentality of helping the team.”

By January, there was talk of a move. Roma showed interest. But since the close of the window, Januzaj has dazzled for la Real, chasing and harrying off the ball. And the goals are suddenly flowing.

Januzaj has one from each of his last two league outings, the matchwinner against Valladolid last weekend and a fabulous strike against Valencia, scored, naturally, after cutting from the right and knowing that in his current, confident mood, his trusty left foot would do the rest.

Updated: March 6, 2020 12:01 PM

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