Adnan Januzaj will almost certainly leave Manchester United this summer but contrary to reports, no deal has yet been done to secure his future.
Speculation linking him with Basque side Real Sociedad is well-founded: they clearly want to sign the six-time Belgian international who spent last season on loan at Sunderland. Jokin Aperribay, president of the club that finished sixth in Spain and will play European football next term, enjoys good relations with United after the two clubs met in the 2013-14 Champions League and the Basque officials took their United counterparts to one of the best restaurants in Europe. A year later, they signed former United manager David Moyes.
La Real pride themselves on being above-board and direct in their transfer negotiations and they communicated their interest in Januzaj to United 10 days ago. They expect to pay between €8-10 million for a player who cost United nothing.
There has been no further contact since that initial one, but Januzaj and his agent are aware of the interest and the agent is set to visit the glorious city, with its shell-shaped beaches on Spain’s Atlantic coast, in the next couple of days to hear what they say. There have been other offers for Januzaj, who is only 22.
Januzaj should visit the city himself too. He didn’t play when United drew the Basque side there in November 2013 but if one city can make a positive impression on a player, it would be San Sebastian in the summer. As striker John Aldridge, the club’s first non-Basque player for over three decades when he signed in 1991, recalled after a first visit with his wife: “I knew nothing about San Sebastian and I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when we arrived [after his unsavoury departure from Liverpool]. We couldn’t believe it when I got there and saw two beaches and this wonderful promenade.
“I turned to my wife. Her smile made me realise there were good times ahead. I said: ‘I didn’t realise it was going to be this good.'”
Moyes was similarly enchanted. While Aldridge worked out, Moyes didn’t though both men helped La Real beat Barcelona. Moyes was replaced by former Barça B coach Eusebio Sacristan, who improved them significantly to secure that top-six finish in the 94th minute of the final day of the season, and at the expense of their great Basque rivals, Athletic Bilbao. Moyes had been brought in to pull a team away from a relegation fight.
Januzaj, who still has a year left on his substantial Old Trafford contract, is Sociedad’s plan B in much the same way Alvaro Morata is United’s second option after their pursuit of Antoine Griezmann fell through. The Basque club wanted Mexican winger Hirving Lozano, 21, from Pachuca, but he visited PSV Eindhoven on Monday, verbally agreeing a contract and telling the Dutch club that he’ll sign once the Confederations Cup is over. They’re now focussing their efforts on signing Januzaj, but neither the player nor United appear in a hurry.
Januzaj has a £30,000 per week contract at United for another year and could see it out if he chose, but footballers usually want to play football and his suitors wouldn’t be paying a substantial figure to put him on the bench. Januzaj is also fully aware that his future is not at Old Trafford.
However it plays out, United fans will have bitter-sweet feelings about his departure. The fee will represent a financial success from selling a product of the club’s youth system — United have improved at selling players — but fans who once sang his name with conviction had hoped he could be a mainstay for United. For several months during the dire 2013-14 season, Januzaj was the most exciting thing about watching United.
A star of the youth and reserve teams and the 2013 reserve team player of the year, Sir Alex Ferguson thought that Januzaj had the talent to jump straight to the first team. Moyes promoted him and was justified as the player, whose parents had fled war-torn Yugoslavia for Belgium in 1992, scored twice on his debut in a game at Sunderland.
Quick-footed and fond of taking on his opponent, Januzaj featured in 38 United games, scoring five goals and setting up eight more in his breakthrough season. His contract was quickly increased from £1,000 a week to £30,000 but his biggest fans were Moyes and his coaches.
Moyes’ successor, Louis van Gaal, gave him early chances but quickly dropped the Belgium international to a more peripheral role. Januzaj played only 1,025 first team minutes for United against 2,090 the previous season. He couldn’t break into Van Gaal’s side by the end of 2014-15 and while he was given further chances at the start of 2015-16, scoring the only goal at Aston Villa, he didn’t look the player he’d once been.
Januzaj wouldn’t have been the only United player unhappy at Van Gaal’s management but a loan spell at Borussia Dortmund didn’t work out either as he didn’t start a single league game; coach Thomas Tuchel accused him of showing a lack of desire during his loan spell.
Moyes had wanted to take him to Real Sociedad in January 2016 but United declined. Moyes finally got a player he rated very highly last season at Sunderland, but it was a familiar story: a bright start before Januzaj faded without scoring a single league goal. But Real Sociedad, the club that gave Antoine Griezmann his break, think that he’s the perfect age for their attack-minded team and value his experience playing in the Premier League.
La Real also know it could be a complicated transfer because he has other offers and they feel United can take their time, but he’s now their number one target. United will likely negotiate a sell-on clause just in case Januzaj finally starts to realise the potential of his talent but it’s already been three years since he was seen as a future hope at Old Trafford and he’s not done much since then apart from follow Moyes’ disappointing tracks.
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