Sir Alex Ferguson’s last service to Manchester United, before his retirement with 1,500 games behind him, was to make his first-team debut to Adnan Januzaj (Brussels, 26 years old), a left-hander of Kosovar Albanian origin for whom the United academy had paid Anderlecht 300,000 euros when he was only 16 years old. He trained at the Red Devils school, debuted with 18 under Ferguson, and with Van Gaal on the Old Trafford bench, after a loan to Borussia Dortmund, he decided to pack his bags and travel to San Sebastián to sign for the Royal Society. For four years now, he still has a certain resentment with the Dutch coach, and the Europa League joins his destiny with that of his old club (game played at Juventus Stadium at 18.55, Movistar LC).
When the draw saw Real and United face each other in the round of 32, Januzaj and Pogba did not stop exchanging messages. They do it often, because the two lived very close in Manchester and it was not uncommon for one or the other to go to their partner’s home to spend the afternoon playing play, or to go together to have fun or shopping at the Trafford Center, the commercial megapark where the youth of the city meet in those days when they don’t feel like going out.
Pogba and Januzaj were two promises of United, inseparable. The Frenchman made his debut in the first team before, and in Europe he did it in San Mamés, against Athletic, but at the end of the year, Ferguson announced that he was leaving for Juventus and leaving his friend alone.
Januzaj lost his support, although it was Evra who took the Belgian under his wing. The left-handed winger received praise from Ferguson. “He is a wonderfully balanced player,” he said, and began to alternate the games in the reserve team with those in the Premier. He enjoyed the trust of the United manager, and also that of David Moyes, his replacement. The poor results, however, doomed the Scottish coach, with whom he had played 27 games after his debut against Sunderland, a day in which he scored two goals.
Van Gaal arrived and things changed. “Without him I would still be at Manchester United,” repeats the realist; “If there are the right people, who gave me confidence and made me play, surely I would still be there.” The Real Sociedad player assures that this resentment does not go away. “Once you meet someone with whom you are not going to have a chance, you never forget him,” he said in an interview with the Manchester Evening News. He prefers to fondly remember Ferguson, Moyes or Ryan Giggs, from whom he inherited the number 11 on his shirt. He was his teammate, he had him as player-coach, as assistant coach and as first coach. “When I had bad moments, Giggs talked to me a lot, he helped me to stay calm, to enjoy my football and not to get angry if I did not play, to keep my feet on the ground.”
Four years have passed, and yet Januzaj still has a thorn in the side of not having succeeded in Manchester. “I have a year left on my contract, and then who knows,” he says, when they suggest that United is missing a player of his characteristics.
For now, he will face his old team. “He is eager, but like the rest of the team,” says Imanol Alguacil. “Not because of his past he is more eager than the rest, we all know the importance of the tie, what we play for, what this tie means for our club and we are all just as focused.” To date, very irregular, the Belgian winger has not achieved the undisputed title with the San Sebastian team.