David Moyes’ tenure at Manchester United isn’t remembered fondly with a seventh-place finish in the Premier League, but there was one spark during the campaign.
It’s October, United have had a mixed start in their first season since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Records are being broken, but not good ones.
The first 0–0 game at home in 77 Premier League games, the worst start to a season since 1989 and West Brom won their first game at Old Trafford in 35 years and we’re only six games in.
Already Moyes is under pressure, a tough start including derby defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City leaving his side in the bottom half of the table, eight points off the top and three off the relegation zone.
Robin Van Persie isn’t delivering like he was the season before, new signing Wilfred Zaha is being left out already and already questions are being asked of Moyes’ side. He needs something different to shake things up.
Step up 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj, a player who has made a couple of substitute appearances so far. He comes on at half-time in the West Brom defeat and does okay, taking defenders on and nearly scoring a late equaliser but nothing extraordinary. Moyes has to change things.
Up next is managerless Sunderland, a must-win game for United and their beleaguered manager.
Five minutes in it goes wrong, again.
A poor clearance from Phil Jones from inside the United box deflects off Nemanja Vidic and Craig Gardner is left with a chance from just outside the six-yard box to give Sunderland the lead.
United are gifting another three points to a side who haven’t won all season and are bottom of the table. It’s dire stuff. Emanuele Giaccherini fires another clear chance over the bar before half-time and Sunderland are on top.
But 10 minutes into the second half, Janzuaj gives United a lifeline. He chips the ball to Evra on the left wing who fires a low cross and runs back onto it and nestles it in the corner, first time. Kieren Westwood is stumped in the Sunderland goal.
And six minutes later, Januzaj does it again. You’ve seen it before pop on your timeline every now and then, hungover watching Premier League Years, you know the goal I’m talking about.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 17, 2021
Nani’s cross is headed backwards by John O’Shea and just inside the box pops up Januzaj and he smacks it first time on the volley, across goal into the bottom right corner. It’s a vintage Barclays moment.
The technique is perfect. Rob Hawthorne on Sky describes it as a “biblical strike.”
Van Persie misses a sitter at the end but United go on to win the game 2-1. Januzaj is Man of the Match.
For a moment it feels like Moyes has found the answer to all his attacking problems, two weeks later United signed Janzuaj down to a five-year contract. He’s quickly become one of the most important players in the side.
He starts the following week against Southampton and sets up United’s first goal, playing a ball through the defence from the halfway line.
A late equaliser from Adam Lallana splits the points but Januzaj is the best player on the pitch again, running at defenders and creating chances, something that was so rare under the static crossing game of Moyes’ United.
That burst of pace and that little shimmy that he did so often caused defenders nightmares. A goal at home to West Ham in December put James Tomkins completely on his arse, see you later pal, just been embarrassed by an 18-year-old whose shirt number is 44.
When there was a chance of silverware that season in the (then known as) Capital One Cup, it was Januzaj who nearly dragged United into the final almost single-handedly.
Familiar opponents in Sunderland won the first leg 2-1 meaning that United needed to win at home to progress, easy enough right?
Januzaj sets up United’s first for the night, swinging in a corner that Johnny Evans heads home and he’s doing his thing again, swaggering around the pitch, giving fullbacks PTSD and the game goes to extra time with United not being able to find a second.
David De Gea makes an absolute Hillman Corrie-esque car crash of a lame Phil Bardsley shot in the last minute of added time. It looks like it’s over.
The 7,000 Sunderland fans fall down rows of seats in the away end in celebration and the players in their yellow shirts with “BIDVEST” plastered across it can’t believe their luck.
Except Janzuaj saves United once more. Sunderland have their entire side in the United box but he manages to play a one-two with Chris Smalling before finding Javier Hernandez on his own in the six-yard box for a tap-in.
The game goes to one of the worst penalty shoot-outs ever, seven players miss and Sunderland go through 3-2. Janzuaj’s is saved, the stakes are too high for an 18-year-old.
United go out of the FA Cup in the third round to Swansea and Moyes was sacked by April. United finished the season in seventh.
New manager Louis van Gaal isn’t a fan of Januzaj and after two failed loan spells to Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland, United sold the Belgian to Real Sociedad for €8 million two years later.
He’s still had a solid career, scoring at World Cups, a Copa del Rey with Sociedad and six seasons in La Liga is no easy job but after 2014, United fans thought they’d found someone who could save them.
It was a great fling while it lasted.
By James Young