West Brom 5-5 Manchester United on the last day of the 2012-13 season was notable for several reasons. It was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge. It marked the only time that Romelu Lukaku ever scored against United, as the Chelsea loanee (and recent potential world record signee) bagged a hat trick as a substitute.
Perhaps the most important figure, however, was a baby-faced 18 year-old who looked out of place sitting at the grownup table. The West Brom match marked the first time that a young, promising Academy product named Adnan Januzaj was listed on the team sheet for a Premier League match. He didn’t get into the game, as West Brom’s comeback meant that there would be no opportunities for any debutantes. Nevertheless, his very presence on the bench was powerfully symbolic. Arriving at United via Anderlecht, the talented Belgian /Albanian /Kosovar represented the best of Ferguson’s youth policy and was one of the biggest reasons why David Moyes got the job over more established names like Jose Mourinho. After Januzaj was the lone bright spot during the traumatic 2013-2014 season, it seemed like he was well on his way to becoming a world class winger in the vein of Ryan Giggs, the legend whose number he inherited the following season.
It was not to be.
On Wednesday, United sold the player who was once its crown jewel to Real Sociedad for a paltry £9.8 million. Such a deal would have been unthinkable after that breakthrough season – if anything, United would have held out for five times that amount.
Instead, the only thing surprising about Januzaj’s transfer was that it didn’t happen last summer. It’s a testament to how far his stock has fallen that it’s impressive that United managed to get that much for him. Whereas he once represented the future of Manchester United, Januzaj departs as a cautionary tale. To be fair, the lack of managerial stability at the club didn’t help him as neither Louis van Gaal nor Jose Mourinho seemed to have much use for him. Others pointed to the lucrative contract he signed after that debut season as an example of “too much, too soon.” Loan moves to Dortmund and Sunderland didn’t help, and both managers called Januzaj out for his attitude.
“I have spoken to the boy and told him you need to stop blaming everybody else and you need to start realising what you are going to do,” Moyes said upon signing Januzaj on loan for Sunderland in August 2016.
Instead, it looks like Januzaj is still pointing fingers. In an Instagram post, he thanked all of his teammates, past and present, and paid tribute to the fans. He also threw in this gem: “Thank you to some of the coaches and staff that work at Manchester United to make it such a great club.”
It doesn’t take a psychic to figure out which coaches he did not want to thank. Probably Mourinho, who refused to even give him a look, as well as van Gaal, who loaned him out. As for the ones he wanted to thank, Moyes and Ferguson, most likely, made the cut. After all, nothing would be more appropriate for a player who carried the hopes and aspirations of those two men and their approach to player development and the transfer market.