On Wednesday, with little fanfare, Manchester United sent Adnan Januzaj to La Liga’s Real Sociedad, only getting 8 million pounds in return for the 22-year-old winger.
Januzaj is at least mildly familiar to most Premier League fans thanks to the 15 minutes of fame he experienced as a teen in 2013 when, in only his fifth appearance for United, he notched his team’s only two goals in a 2-1 victory over Sunderland. Januzaj’s first goal is a little bit of right place, right time, but his second finish is still spectacular.
Even so, in most games, that performance doesn’t get you all that much notice. But Januzaj had the misfortune of playing for perhaps the most iconic team in soccer, one that was defending a Premier League title and simultaneously attempting to begin a new era following the departure of legendary manager Alex Ferguson.
For a very brief time, the “teenage sensation” Januzaj could have been the leading man of that new era. In the same month of his first start, Januzaj signed a five-year contract extension. Not long after, he was nominated for the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year award, and the question of whether he would choose the English or Belgian national team was genuinely intriguing.
But United weren’t actually all that good during Januzaj’s run of stardom. In 2013-14, the Red Devils finished 7th in the Premier League, their worst result since 1990. Rookie manager David Moyes was quickly shown the door, while Januzaj’s form fizzled. He only scored one goal in the second half of the season.
Moyes was replaced by Louis van Gaal, who didn’t seem to care for Januzaj in the way that his previous managers did. Januzaj appeared in roughly half his team’s games in 2014-15 and found himself loaned to Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland in the next two seasons, never finding playing time with United like he did as an 18-year-old. Januzaj himself doesn’t appear to be too happy with how he was treated by Man United, pointedly only saying thank you in his goodbye tweet to “some” of the coaching staff.
For his part, however, Januzaj didn’t do much to prove doubters wrong. In 68 appearances since his rookie campaign, he has scored a staggeringly low two total goals. In fact, almost the entirety of his remaining recognition is still built around just one pretty meaningless match in 2013. If he didn’t come from Manchester United, he would likely be unknown.
Still, Januzaj is somehow only 22, and he has more high-level experience than almost anyone else his age. The competition he’ll face at Real Sociedad will be mostly comparable to the Premier League, and the skill level of his new team is significantly higher than that of last year’s Sunderland squad. Januzaj, despite his failures, is far from washed up, and this transfer—which features a buyback clause for Manchester United—remains an opportunity for him to make a lasting mark.