Phil Smith: The SAFC cult hero that Adnan Januzaj needs to look to for inspiration

Adnan Januzaj
Adnan Januzaj
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Adnan Januzaj has sparked into life at the Stadium of Light.

David Moyes is prowling the touchline, chants of ‘David Moyes Red Army’ ringing in his ears. Januzaj has scored twice and won the game.

Steed Malbranque

Steed Malbranque

The date, of course, is October 5, 2013, and the pair are still at the beginning of what they had hoped would be a long and fruitful partnership. For Moyes, Januzaj looked like being the jewel in his crown, for a time at least.

Rocked by an inability to land one of his marquee signings in what would turn out to be a crucial first summer at Old Trafford, the hitherto unknown Belgian cushioned the blow, a sign that Moyes would continue the United tradition of blooding youth and favouring flair.

A fortnight later, he had a five-year deal. Moyes, famously, had six.

Three years down the line and the venue in the same, but everything is different.

Moyes is watching his side fold to a mid-table Stoke City, not confident enough in his bench to even make a substitution to try and turn things around.

Januzaj is floundering, being called out on the pitch by his team-mates and drawing ire from the stands, avoiding 50-50 challenges and going to ground too easily.

Neither had designs on getting involved in a relegation fight, but both are crucial if Sunderland are to get out of it.

Moyes needs Januzaj to add cutting edge in the final third. To go past players and drag his team-mates up the pitch, to hold onto the ball, to add a goal or two at crucial moments.

Januzaj needs a manager who trusts him, to keep the faith on tough days.

There have been flickers of his talent on Wearside, moments when the sheer scale of his talent and ability take your breath away, if only for a second.

He is still only 21, a long career ahead of him, many more chances to make good on that promise. He can be forgiven, surely, for the early stages of this loan spell when he looked out of his depth and ill at ease with being dropped into a ferocious relegation scrap.

The Stoke defeat, however, felt like something of a crossroads moment for his time in the North East, a poor display coming off the back of what had seemed to be gradual improvements in recent weeks.

Not enough tenacity, not enough fight.

Coming just days after Lyon registered their interest in the attacking midfielder, it no doubt left many wondering whether this is the right place for the Belgian. Perhaps it left him wondering, too.

Lyon have built an enterprising side high on technical ability. In Nabil Fekir, Alexandre Lacazette, Maxime Gonalons, Mathieu Valbuena, Rachid Ghezzal, Januzaj might find a side in which he would find it more natural to play his game. The French division, perhaps played at a lower intensity and less demanding physically, has already been the platform for Hatem Ben Arfa and Mario Balotelli to relaunch their careers.

Januzaj, may not be anywhere near those two in terms of off the field volatility, but the tag of ‘unfulfilled promise’ is beginning to stick.

If, as it seems to be the case, however, Januzaj wants to stay and play for Moyes on Wearside, he could look to a former Lyon midfielder for inspiration.

Steed Malbranque, a player who raised the Sunderland faithful off their seats week after week.

A unique footballer, with the same ability as Januzaj to use a low centre of gravity to escape out of tight spaces, often escaping the attentions of two or three opponents at once.

That ability to transform the pace and trajectory of an attack with one touch, catching the opposition defence out of position and on their heels.

That Steed was rarely fit enough to complete a game mattered not. When he was on, he harried, he ran, and flew into challenges that often made you wince. A combination that makes cult heroes in this part of the world.

When discussing Januzaj months after leaving United, Moyes compared his poise to the great Johan Cruyff, a player who raised his eyebrows at any insistence that he should run himself into the ground.

He played football with his brain, not his legs, he would say. Januzaj does have shades of that ability, his stunning passes to release Jermain Defoe against Watford and Liverpool testament to that.

The way Sunderland’s players look for him when in trouble on the ball speaks volumes of the respect they have for his raw talent.

Neither Moyes nor Sunderland fans would expect Lee Cattermole levels of tenacity from him, should it sacrifice that attacking incision.

There, are, however, fundamentals he must carry out if his time here is to be successful.

It’s all set out for him, right down to the genius Stone Roses adaption waiting on the terraces.

Just as he did three years ago, his manager needs him.