The making of Adnan Januzaj
Posted Saturday, October 19 2013 at 01:00
Owned by United, chased by England... the wonder boy whose parents escaped the Kosovo war to move to Belgium. If you didn’t know the name Adnan Januzaj already, you certainly do now.
The 18-year-old winger exploded into the Premier League consciousness two weeks as his two expertly-taken goals spared Manchester United’s blushes at Sunderland. It was just the latest vindication of Moyes’s faith in the Kosovo-born Belgian, who has impressed United fans with his cameos so far this season. Read his amazing story by Daily Mail’s Matt Lawton in Brussels and Nick Fagge in Istog
The debate that rages over which country Adnan Januzaj should represent appears to be rather more civilised in England than it is elsewhere.
Last week on Albanian television they discussed the most sought-after teenager in European football on a programme entitled Hero or Traitor, the view being that he would be the latter if he turned his back on his family’s heritage to represent anyone else.
On the face of it the 18-year-old who shot to prominence with two brilliant goals in only his third appearance for Manchester United would seem to be spoilt for choice. His direct style and willingness to dribble past defenders as if it was the most natural thing in the world has everyone purring.
The reality, however, is very different and those who have encountered Januzaj on his journey are saddened by the pressure being placed on his gifted young shoulders.
Born in Brussels, Januzaj is the son of Kosovar-Albanian parents who fled the Balkan crisis to escape the poverty and persecution suffered by other members of their family. Today their story can be told for the first time.
But it is a story that means Januzaj could play for Belgium, Albania, Kosovo, Turkey or England, and to date Januzaj has not revealed his preference and nor has his protective father, Abedin.
Januzaj’s agent, Dirk de Vriese, says no family members will be speaking until a lucrative new contract with United has been agreed, although Europe’s other top clubs are circling if that does not materialise. But there is clearly more to it than that.
It is thought that, were they a FIFA-affiliated team and therefore able to participate in competitive international football, Kosovo would be first choice. As it is, England are understood to be the favoured alternative.
The FA certainly believe that to be the case and they are seeking to establish if the possession of a British passport could lead to the five-year FIFA residency rule being bypassed.
But even that, with the image of highly-paid lawyers going into battle in a bid to land the prize asset, feels like exploitation given the picture that is painted of a quiet, dedicated young man and his humble family.
From his old teachers to his earliest coaches, nobody has a bad word to say about this boy or his father. Even Anderlecht, the Brussels football club that lost him at 16 to United because in Belgium it is prohibited to place players of that age under contract, wish him only the best.
‘We are not happy at all that a player we lost for €300,000, a fee that was set by FIFA, is now worth 20 million,’ Anderlecht spokesman David Steegen told Sportsmail.
‘He was born in Brussels, educated here at our club; he’s one of ours and it makes us angry what has happened. But we are happy for Adnan. He is a good boy.’
In Belgium there have been unsubstantiated reports of United paying an additional €200,000 to the Januzaj family and providing them with a home in a gated apartment block in one of the smarter parts of Manchester where he lives with his mum and dad.
Steegen does, however, acknowledge that Anderlecht did to RWDM Brussels FC what United would do to them four years later. RWDM was local to the Januzaj family home in the middle-class Brussels suburb of Koekelberg - a place dominated by the stunning Basilica - and Abedin would take Adnan to training after leaving the Chevrolet-Opel dealership where he worked as an accountant.