Looking at Januzaj and understanding why talent isn’t everything

  • Dhiman Sarkar, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Jul 26, 2016 16:34 IST
Adnan Januzaj has gone from being the hottest prospect in Europe to a failed potential in no time. (REUTERS)

Performance and potential seem like parallel lines in the life of Adnan Januzaj, once a whiz kid at Manchester United. Only 21, it would be presumptuous to assume that the twain shall never meet but few could have the predicted how it’s all gone downhill for the Belgian international who sometimes remind you of a gaunt version of actor Macaulay Culkin. 

According to the latest transfer market rumour, David Moyes wants to start it all over again for Januzaj at Sunderland, the team against whom he scored a life-changing brace in 2013. It was under Moyes at United that Januzaj flowered; indeed he was possibly the only bright spot in the area of darkness that Manchester United were under the Scot who succeeded Alex Ferguson. 

Then Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho had said Januzaj has everything going for a long, successful career. Then, Januzaj was said to be the successor to Ryan Giggs. Granted those were seriously big boots to fill but who would have thought that at 42, Giggs would have more game time than his protégé, albeit at futsal in India. The Guardian has reported that Januzaj will no longer wear Giggs’ No. 11 shirt, which has been given to Anthony Martial this term. Januzaj got No.15. 

Rain in Beijing washed out the Manchester derby but during United’s tour of China, which ended on Monday, Januzaj came on in the 55th minute against Borussia Dortmund, the club he was loaned to last summer and failed to impress. At Dortmund too Januzaj didn’t get enough minutes on the pitch, primarily because of certain Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Against Wigan in United’s first match under Mourinho, he was a second-half substitute but not very influential as a wide man. That’s some come down for the teen given a 60,000 pounds a week deal in 2013. 

According to The Guardian’s report, it is not ability but attitude, mainly on the training ground, that has led to Januzaj’s slide. The report states that it’s been the same with the Belgium squad where Januzaj was ignored for the Euro after being included in the 2014 World Cup squad. 

Perhaps that’s why discus champion Seema Antil Poonia, India’s first medallist at a world junior championship, told HT on Monday the importance of grooming to ensure U-20 world javelin champion Neeraj Chopra translates his performance at the senior level. Maybe that’s why the careers of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli had such different trajectories. 

Between Best and Adu 

As it is, there is no way of finding out how a prodigy’s career will play out. Some like George Best live up to the words of his scout Bob Bishop who famously telegrammed Matt Busby “I think I’ve found you a genius.” And some like Freddie Adu don’t. From being the youngest in the USA to be given a contract in a team sport, Adu became a journeyman in Europe before returning to Major League Soccer. The midfielder is still only 27 but has played for 12 clubs including one in the Finnish third division. The last time he played for the USA was in 2011. 

Mark Robbins is said to have helped Ferguson hold on to his job at United in 1990 but most of the first batch of Fergie’s Fledglings didn’t have an all-glitters career. With David Beckham, Giggs, the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, the class of 92 was different and though such success rate is usually the exception than the norm, it also speaks highly of the players’ mental fortitude. 

All in the mind? 

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the chapter ‘Recognising Hunger’ in ‘Leading’, a book by Ferguson and Michael Moritz, begins with a picture of a very young Beckham. “Once you bid farewell to discipline, you say goodbye to success and set the stage for anarchy,” Ferguson has said. In the same chapter after praising the work ethic of Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferguson says: “If I had to choose someone who had great talent but was short on grit and desire, and another player who was good but had great determination and drive, I would always prefer the latter. The former might work well for a brief period, but they never have the staying power that gives a great club stability and consistency.” 

It is a point Rudi Webster too makes early in his book ‘Think Like a Champion’. “The depth of your motivation and self-discipline determines the level of your performance,” said Webster, a medical practitioner, former first-class cricketer and mind coach. He also highlighted the important role the mind plays in making a winner by citing that Napoleon Bonaparte had said that in his war campaigns, the psychological was to the physical what two is to one. 

“Success must first be created in the mind, then planned and pursued diligently over time..It is a journey…usually punctuated by ups and downs, successes and failures. Enjoyment of the journey is a key to good performance,” according to Webster. 

Making your own luck 

By the time he was 17 and yet to win his first tournament, Andre Agassi had stopped enjoying the journey and had given his racquets away. A chance entry to a tournament in North Carolina got him to defer plans and buy racquets. He beat Pat Cash there and lost to Ivan Lendl in the semi-final after taking a set of the then world No. 1. Even though he hated tennis, Agassi shelved retirement plans for the nearly 20 years after that. One of the reasons why Matthew Syed reckons he became a champion table tennis player is that his parents, neither of whom played the game, installed a board in the garage and that he had a brother with whom he could play. “Without knowing it, we were blissfully accumulating thousands of hours of practice,” said Syed, in ‘Bounce’ his attempt to deconstruct the making of a champion. 

A chance encounter that changes one’s life --- Agassi meeting Gil Reyes for instance ---- the four-letter word ‘work’ and some good luck go a long way in making a champion at sport and life. Who knows, maybe they are all around the corner for Januzaj.

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