While the media has perhaps been guilty of perpetuating a myth in writing about Adnan Januzaj’s long-term future like it is Manchester United’s one and only priority, it is undoubtedly true that United manager David Moyes would like to get the 18-year-old to put pen to paper on a new deal sooner rather than later.
That appears to be a happy ending that will take some expert negotiating in order to reach, however, as the vultures continue to circle over the exciting young attacking midfielder.
Barcelona have been most strongly linked with Januzaj since he emerged onto the scene, a compliment to his obvious technical ability and undoubted potential, but it seems they are not his only suitors.
Juventus, emboldened by their previous success in luring Paul Pogba from Old Trafford in similar circumstances two summers ago, have now made their intention clear to pursue another of United's top prospects.
Juve’s general manager, Beppe Marotta, offered nothing short of a warning to United about the difficulty they now face in retaining Januzaj’s services.
"If they fear another case like Pogba's then they are right," Marotta told Tuttosport, as relayed by ESPNFC. "It's difficult to understand how we can reach a stage eight months prior to the contract expiring without seeing a renewal.
“Januzaj is a player showing big promise. He is a player of great quality."
It appears Januzaj’s future was one element neglected while Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor was being found and installed (understandable, really), although reports about the midfielder’s father—who has apparently directed his son’s career to date with a remarkable discipline—suggest the Januzaj camp was always going to wait things out.
"The departure of Sir Alex Ferguson meant that there was a break in the negotiations, but we are back working on the calls and will see how it goes," Januzaj’s agent, Dirk de Vriese, said in his most recent public comments on the matter, as per the Belfast Telegraph.
The influence of Januzaj’s father—which reportedly extends to the player’s reluctance to make any sort of commitment to a national team right now—could be taken as both a good and a bad sign for United.
On the one hand, Januzaj’s father could follow in a long line of overbearing parents and hawk his son out to the highest bidder. An expiring contract does create something of an auction, with a number of big teams with large budgets potentially able to vie for Januzaj’s services.
Januzaj's father could cultivate that.
On the other hand, the father may simply want what is best for his son’s career—and will advise him accordingly over his future. If that is the case, United remain in a strong position, having granted him a chance to impress in the first-team already.
"I know that, first, I have to concentrate on what I do for United, because that is the most important part of my career right now,” Januzaj told the Daily Mirror recently, having been asked about his international future.
"I want to play well for United and give everything for my club."
While Juventus may have been quick to jump to the Pogba comparison, the fact the Frenchman’s agent was Mino Raiola underlines that his was a very different situation:
Raiola is a master at moving his clients for ever-more lucrative sums (Zlatan Ibrahimovic being the prime example) and Pogba (remarkably aware of his own talent, and aggravated by the fact Ferguson did not seem to see it) no doubt profited financially from switching clubs when he did.
Fortunately, the move has been positive at a footballing level too, with Pogba emerging as an impact player for Juventus, one who is seemingly not yet a first-team regular for Italy’s best club side only because head coach Antonio Conte is bringing him along slowly.
Of course, considering Manchester United’s current problems in central midfield, he may already be a first-team regular there had he stayed, but that is speculation never to be proved.
The Raiola connection is worth keeping in mind considering Juventus president Andrea Agnelli's comments this week, where he called Juventus a "transit destination" for elite talent—citing Pogba as an example.
“Italy’s no longer a final destination, but it’s a transit destination,” Agnelli told a Leaders in Football Conference. “I’m trying to think of what will be of us in two or three years’ time if we get a massive offer for one of the best talents we’ve got today, Pogba, the French 20-year-old.
"Will we be able to retain him? I don’t know. I don’t think, at the moment, we have the strength to retain such a player."
Pogba, who has been linked with Arsenal among many other European clubs, has the talent to be wanted by almost any top club. The fact Juventus may not be able to afford to retain such a talent (restricted as they are by Serie A's lesser significance in international TV markets against the Premier League and La Liga) is another indication of why they might pursue Januzaj; it is rare that established (if Januzaj can be called "established" just yet) young prospects are available for next-to-nothing.
But, in more general terms, Marotta’s comments serve as a flexing of muscles; another indication of the club’s re-emergence as a genuine force at European level.
Having recovered fully from the sanctions they suffered as a result of the Calciopoli scandal to restore their primacy at domestic level, the Old Lady of Italian football is looking to become a force again in European competition.
Having signed Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez to bolster their attacking lineup—the most obvious deficiency as they were brushed aside by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League last season—there has been frustration in Turin at the club’s underwhelming start to this year’s competition.
Pursuing Januzaj so publicly is another indication of intent to make that big European impression, and another reminder that one of European football’s superpowers seems to be building towards another peak.
But it should not distract from the fact that it is Januzaj, his father, and his advisers, who will make the final decision.
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