In the same week in which Manchester United announced the £75 million signing of Belgium international striker Romelu Lukaku to much fanfare, another Belgian quietly made his way towards the Old Trafford exit door, as Adnan Januzaj completed his £9 million move to Spanish outfit Real Sociedad.
Go back to October 2013 and the winger had signed a bumper new five-year deal with the Red Devils, just a couple of weeks after announcing himself to the world with two sublime goals on his full debut away to Sunderland.
— NinetyMinutesOnline (@90MinsOnline) July 23, 2017
By the end of that 2013/14 campaign, Januzaj would be heralded as club legend Ryan Giggs’ natural successor and was handed the Welshman’s number 11 shirt.
Since then, the 22-year-old has failed to live up to the lofty standards that he set for himself in his debut season, when he drifted past players with ease, uninhibited by his surroundings.
He was a bright spark in an otherwise dismal campaign that year, but has now been deemed surplus to requirements by Jose Mourinho and left Old Trafford with something of a whimper.
Before he had even made his United debut, Januzaj was called a ‘beautifully balanced player’ by Sir Alex Ferguson and while his natural talent has never been in doubt, question marks have been raised over the winger’s attitude.
At the start of the 2015/16, having failed to cement a place in Louis van Gaal’s starting XI, the Belgian was sent on a season-long loan to German giants Borussia Dortmund in the hope of earning some much-needed minutes on the pitch.
However, just four months and 12 appearances later – of which only three of them were starts – Januzaj’s time at the Westfalenstadion was brought to an end, with coach Thomas Tuchel criticising the winger’s commitment.
“A part of him was always still in Manchester and we just couldn’t help him cut this umbilical cord,” the 43-yaer-old told FourFourTwo shortly after.
“He didn’t wholly embrace Borussia. He always compared everything with how it had been at United.”
That is the challenge that Januzaj now faces as he starts a new chapter in his career, having had that umbilical cord cut by Mourinho, who, just under 12 month ago, stated that the former Anderlecht youth player was very much in his plans as he was sent on a season-long loan to Sunderland, managed by the man who gave the winger his big break, David Moyes.
“He (Januzaj) fits in my plans, that’s why he’s on loan and that why he’s on loan at a Premier League club,” the Portuguese boss explained last August.
However, the Belgian’s failure to score a single goal in 25 Premier League appearances for the Black Cats convinced the Portuguese boss otherwise, and Januzaj must now prepare for life in Spain’s La Liga.
Perhaps a move to a foreign country and foreign league, away from the intense scrutiny of the British media, is just what he needs to resurrect a career that has stalled since he dazzled the Old Trafford faithful as a fearless 18-year-old.
Still only 22, time is very much on Januzaj’s side to carve out a career at the top of the game, but he must embrace this fresh start that has been presented to him and be fully committed to life at Sociedad.
The Spanish outfit’s decision to hand the winger a five-year contract suggests that they have every faith that he will fulfill the abundance of talent at his feet, however, it is now up to the player himself to repay that faith and become the top-quality footballer that his potential deserves.