"I wasn't under much pressure," Adnan Januzaj told reporters after taking his international bow during Belgium’s 5-1 win over Luxembourg on Monday. "I'm used to playing in front of almost 80,000 at Manchester United. I am happy with my debut."
These are remarkable words for a 19-year-old who had not made a single appearance as a professional footballer this time last year. In fact, back then, his biggest claim to fame was a spot on the bench for Sir Alex Ferguson’s final match as manager on that barmy afternoon at The Hawthorns. But times have changed for Januzaj. Twelve months on, with four goals and 35 games under his belt, he is undoubtedly United’s breakout star and on the verge of capturing the world’s attention.
Yes, the World Cup is approaching and Adnan looks bound for Brazil after declaring his allegiance to the Belgian flag, the country of his birth, ending all speculation about his international future. Such was the gravity of his announcement, national team manager Mark Wilmots amusingly used his personal Twitter account to excitedly welcome his new recruit. Unprofessional? Perhaps, but who can blame him. Januzaj has the potential to star in South America and, although there was some initial opposition to his passport being stamped, most notably from Kevin Mirallas, the Reds forward is braced for action. Ironically, it was the Everton midfielder who made way for Belgium’s bright new hope during Monday’s friendly at Genk’s Cristal Arena.
The fact that Januzaj’s career has accelerated at such a pace is frightening, but at the same time not at all surprising. Before last summer's tour antics and his dazzling first-team debut in the Community Shield, whispers of a teenage sensation with unprecedented style and grace were growing by the decibel around Old Trafford. By October, after netting a headline-stealing brace at Sunderland, the secret was finally out. Adnan was a bona fide star and immediately claimed our Player of the Month award, beating fellow nominees Wayne Rooney and David De Gea with 42 per cent of votes cast.
Four months and a fist-full of eye-catching performances later, Januzaj picked up his second monthly prize and, this time, I was on hand to present the trophy. A congratulatory interview followed and, while Adnan was understandably nervous to be on camera, pausing to think carefully about his words, one thing became unavoidably clear: the boy has confidence