Former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj has opened up about how he slowly lost confidence under Louis van Gaal whilst others around him started to disdain the playing style imposed by the Dutchman.
The Belgian enjoyed a scintillating start to his United career, netting a match-winning brace against Sunderland on his first start back in October 2013 before emerging as the side’s most potent force going forward over the next few months. His raw talent on the ball and impetus to bomb forward served as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise moribund David Moyes set-up, and he was duly taken to the World Cup with Belgium.
But things quickly went south after that. Van Gaal came in and imposed a playing style so alien to the United squad that their first away win came in November. Januzaj, meanwhile, was miles down the pecking order at this point following a series of muted, neurotic displays and spent the latter stages of the season in relative obscurity. He managed to break back into the starting XI the following summer and scored in a 1-0 win over Aston Villa, only to be loaned out to Borussia Dortmund on deadline day, make 12 appearances (mainly from the bench), and return to Old Trafford by February. He only played 16 minutes of football for the rest of the campaign.
By the time Jose Mourinho arrived, Januzaj was firmly on the fringes and joined Sunderland on loan to receive minutes on the pitch. But this went horribly wrong: Sunderland finished bottom with just 24 points and the Belgian didn’t score once in the Premier League. Needless to say, Mourinho wasn’t satisfied and subsequently agreed to selling Januzaj to Real Sociedad for £9.8m. Put simply: this was a career that produced an initial explosion of light before very quickly fizzling out.
And the 22-year-old, speaking to the Daily Mail, noted that Van Gaal’s overly militant, anti-expressionist approach played a major role in that process.
“There was not the same freedom,” he told the Daily Mail. “A winger needs that confidence, a manager telling you, ‘Go and take people on’. With him, it was a slow passing game.”
“For some it was difficult. You could see some players were not enjoying the football. The manager and I had many difficult meetings. I was frustrated and everyone could see that I was not the same Adnan as the first year. I was sometimes even in the stands. When you work hard in training and then get left out, it’s hard for a young guy.
“As a footballer, if you think too much on the pitch, it is never good. You need instinct in your play. When the ball came to us, we had to stop and think, “What are we going to do with it here?”, ‘I can’t lose the ball’.”