Exclusive: Interview with Man Utd’s Adnan Januzaj on Di Maria, Falcao and his preferred role under Van Gaal

By Husmukh Kerai at 12:35 on September 11, 2014

This time last year Adnan Januzaj was a relative unknown. Having arrived at Old Trafford for just under £300,000 in 2011 from Anderlecht, only the most ardent of Manchester United fans were aware of his story and the precocious talent that came with it.

In fact, it was none other than David Moyes who shoved a fresh-faced Januzaj directly into the limelight on one wintery evening on Wearside. An act of desperation it might have been, but intentional or not, the Scot will forever be credited with the unearthing of the young Belgian for his full first-team debut.

And what a debut it was. Two picture-book goals and a 2-1 turnaround later; a star was born. Soon enough the back pages were filled with stories suggesting he could soon represent England or be set for a lucrative transfer away from the Premier League. Squawka caught up with Adnan for an exclusive interview.

The Brussels-born 19-year-old’s early success and fame is a product of the commitment of his persevering parents, the youngster vehemently insists. His parents were there when he swept home a now-viral goal for Man United’s reserves, they were also watching as he made his international debut for the Belgian Red Devils.

“[My family] are very important for my career, especially my mum and my dad…”

“[My family] are very important for my career, especially my mum and my dad; they have looked after me the whole way from when I first started playing football.”

Plucked away from his comfort zone as a youngster, Januzaj still finds it tough to visit his extended family. He admits the difficulty is not easy to cope with yet he aims to make the most of the time he does get with his loved ones. “When I get back for international duty sometimes I get the time to go see them for a bit,” he adds. It seems surreal that someone born in 1995 can talk about returning from a World Cup in Brazil in such relaxed terms. “For me it was a good experience. I didn’t play much but I learnt a lot from being there. Hopefully, if I get the chance, the next World Cup can be mine…We have got a lot of talented players in the team and we have a good coach, we have the ability to win the Euros.”

The winger is still maturing, as a player and as a man. His downtime is spent just like any other 19-year-old, when asked what happens in Januzaj’s world outside of football: “I like going for meals, shopping of course.”

 “I play Fifa! When I am travelling we play, on international duty I play”

He’s also hooked on the game no football fan under the age of 30 can put down: “I play Fifa! When I am travelling we play, on international duty I play”. Any good? “At the minute I’m beating everyone, so yeah!”

Fast-forward from his debut to the present, Januzaj has been slowly nudged into the background. His sudden rise has taken a back seat during a summer which saw the arrival of Louis van Gaal and what can only be described as a blockbuster trolley dash with multi-million pound deals for Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao. Indeed, the comparisons have been raised with the last raw talent of this scale that Manchester United had on their hands – French midfielder Paul Pogba. The Juventus player was famously let go early in his career due to a lack of first team opportunities but has since taken games at the highest level of European football by the scruff of the neck with disconcerting ease.

Januzaj revealed a close friendship forged with Pogba during their time as students in the Manchester United youth setup and has also recently seen close friend Danny Welbeck also depart the club. Was it sad to see another friend leave? “Yeah, because he was a good friend to me…To be honest, I have a good relationship with everyone.  Evra helped me most when I first arrived but now I talk to everyone and I am friends with everyone.”

Rather than feel intimidated with the constant changes, Januzaj seems enthralled at the prospect of playing with and learning from two more world-class footballers that will be plying their trade at Old Trafford.

“I have trained with Di Maria, Falcao I am still waiting for,” he revealed, along with the awe with which he gazed on Di Maria’s first training session. “I like him [Di Maria], he’s very good technically and he is a very good passer. He’s a clever player. [I have also seen] Rojo. He’s a very good player. He is a good defender because he is really relaxed on the ball.”

One feels a desire behind the youthful gaze of Adnan Januzaj. He is a focused individual who knows exactly what he wants and is prepared to work and adapt to achieve his goals. It’s this kind of mentality that has prompted Van Gaal and assistant Giggs to hand over the Welshman’s coveted number 11 shirt, an honour Januzaj is not taking for granted, “I feel privileged. I used to watch him [Giggs]. I learnt a lot of things from him…there are so many things that, really, I could not make a list!”

Adnan Januzaj beat his man per 90 minutes more than twice as many times as any other United winger last season (20 games +)

When quizzed on where he might fit into Van Gaal’s continually-discussed 3-5-2 formation, one would expect him to beat around the bush and spin a line from the ‘footballer’s media training guide’. Instead, within the blink of an eye, he forcefully insists that he wants a central role at Manchester United: “No.10 of course. That’s my preferred position but I’m happy to play anywhere for the manager. I saw some reports saying I was unhappy, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love this club and I’m excited to play for this manager. The fans have been so good to me and I want to repay them.”

Still a teenager, he cites modern cult heroes as the inspiration behind his preferred position. “I used to watch [Zinedine] Zidane a lot and [Juan] Riquelme,” he enthusiastically reveals, with the adamant intention to reach that level himself clear in his tone. On current form, Januzaj cites Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Chelsea forwards Diego Costa and Eden Hazard as the best players in the Premier League.

“He [Eden Hazard]  has all the qualities to be a future Ballon d’Or winner.”

Hazard in particular receives special praise from Januzaj: “He has all the qualities to be a future Ballon d’Or winner. Me and Eden have a good relationship. When I go to international duty, we hang out together and we laugh and laugh a lot. He’s a very good friend to me as well.”

Adnan Januzaj’s youthful outlook combined with multiple references to friendships in the game is juxtaposed with the stark realities of modern football. With several clubs posting bleaker than expected finances the need for Champions League football is clear. However, with the challenge for a place amongst Europe’s elite fiercer than ever before, can Manchester United make it back into the top four of the Premier League? “Man United is obviously a big club so, yes. Obviously, I want to do as well as I can and gain lots of experience and win trophies too.”

If Manchester United are struggling to adapt through the current period of unrest then the fans can take solace in Januzaj’s own assessment of the situation, “Everything changes and can change very quickly. We need more time for the new manager. It’s very hard for managers to come into Man United. Just be patient.”

Amongst all the madness that has encapsulated Manchester United since the turn of the year, one thing is clear: here is a young man who is determined to do everything in his power to become the man his parents and friends have put so much faith and effort into – a star on both the domestic and international stages.

 

Read more: Squawka’s Peter Sharland talks to PSV youngster Steven Bergwijn about Robben, England and who impressed him when he played the England U17s

By Husmukh Kerai

Husmukh is a Premier League accredited journalist with a soft spot for Arsenal's Gunnersaurus Rex. When he isn't watching grainy videos of his heroes Bergkamp and Del Piero, he's often seen pulling his hair out watching Question Time.

Comments

Join the conversation below