Manchester United’s Belgian midfielder Adnan Januzaj, World Cup in Brazil too soon?
Until recently Adnan Januzaj had a veritable smorgosboard of nations seeking his favour. Not like some players who attract the furtive glances of several clubs at once – Januzaj had a list of nations, rumoured to be seven names long, to sup from.
For many critics it seemed to be a case of Januzaj waiting for Kosovo to be declared an independent nation by the United Nations. However with understandable delays in the process and the time it would take for not only the UN to give the green light but then for a team to be formed and accepted under FIFA it may be that Januzaj has opted that it would be too long to wait for Kosovo to be a viable option and instead chose the nation of his birth, Belgium.
National team coach Marc Wilmots took to social media outlet Twitter to let everyone – or at least his followers – know Januzaj’s decision and it seems media in England seem to think that Januzaj’s choice to represent Belgium meant he decided that England – one of his potential suitors – was not for him. Therein lies the problem, for England that Home Nations Agreement essentially ruled out any possibility for Januzaj representing England and ran the whole situation moot. Not that this deterred the press who continued to blast the Januzaj for England horn like unruly children.
The Januzaj to England situation was more or less a none starter for the following reasons. First of all the Home Nations Agreement means that the aforementioned nations consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have opted out of the residency rule whereby a player can gain nationality after playing in their ‘territory’ for five years. The residency rule is an explanation as to why a player like Deco can represent Portugal despite being born in Brazil and only moving to Portugal aged 19.
This does not apply to a nation such as England and instead for a player to become eligible they must have been educated in the nation for five years prior to their eighteenth birthday – and this explains why a player such as West Brom’s Saido Berahino, born in Burundi but living in England since age 10, would be eligible to play for England should he so choose.
As Januzaj only arrived in England aged sixteen, he was too old to qualify the Home Nations Agreement thus rendering the whole debate essentially a non-starter. That said, rules in football are seemingly open to flexible bending and therefore if Januzaj really wanted to play for England, and enough people stamped their feet and moaned about the situation, then perhaps something could have been done. That said, there was never really any indication that Januzaj wanted to play for England.
So with Januzaj’s nationality finally decided after much toing and froing. It seems that the general consensus was that he would represent Belgium with assurances that this years impending World Cup in Brazil would see him feature. A statement that was denied by several sources, and he’s probably why. Most importantly is that assuring Januzaj that he would feature in Brazil would be detrimental to Belgium’s chances.
That’s not to say Januzaj isn’t a talented player. In fact he’s the very opposite. He’s talented, full of potential with a fire that the best young players possess. Both of those last two points are why the 2014 World Cup is going to be just too soon for the 19-year-old. He has had a fantastic season with Manchester United, but like one swallow not making a summer neither does one breakout season make a starting player for a country surely harbouring final eight expectations.
Kevin Mirallas has recently agreed that the World Cup will be just too soon for Januzaj. Adding that he doesn’t know the group of players that have achieved qualification. It could be seen as running scared from Mirallas but I doubt he holds any fear over his place in the team. In fact the Everton player has probably been more consistent throughout the season than his Manchester counterpart yet even his place in the starting eleven is far from likely, even before his season ending injury.
One of the biggest issues Januzaj is going to have to contend with is the over stuffed talent of attacking midfielders in the national team. The likelihood is that Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will flank Romelu Lukaku in Brazil, but should Wilmots wish to change things around he can also call on the likes of Dries Mertens, Moussa Dembélé and Mirallas to play from out wide, so should Januzaj harbour ambitions of starting in Brazil he’s going to have to prove in a very short space of time that the players who got the team this far are not as worthy of him – a very unlikely situation indeed. And that’s before you factor in Marouane Fellaini who can also play in the attacking midfield position and has been a consistent performer for his country if not his club.
If Januzaj continues to impress like he has this season then the European Championships held in France in 2016 may be a great place to begin his Belgium career. Yet in two years time every attacking midfielder in the Belgian National Team will still be of fighting age as well as the likelihood of contending with Dennis Praet, a target for newly coronated Eredivisie champions Ajax and Thorgan Hazard who is likely to be playing in either the English Premier League or German Bundesliga from next season – a platform that will be hard to ignore.
Wilmots, however, may not be so quick to dismiss Januzaj. He has included him in the 27 pre-selection squad which will eventually be trimmed down to 23 for the trip to Brazil. While it is quite possible that Wilmots will opt to leave Januzaj out of the final squad he is definitely going to run the rule over his newest toy. Perhaps Wilmots is just checking to see if Januzaj harbours a secret talent for playing as a full back or an out and out striker, because while Belgium are inundated with attacking midfielders, it is those positions that they are thin on the ground with.
So while the World Cup may be a step too large a little too early for Januzaj, the future is still bright and the Rode Duivels are the better for the Red Devil’s decision. In the meantime Januzaj should have a rest and recover from a sterling first season. Maybe he could take a young lady out for some chicken.