Teo Teng Kiat, Senior Editor
A picture of concentration, Adnan Januzaj kept his eyes on the ball as John O’Shea’s headed clearance came his way on the left of the box. A flash of his boot seconds later, it was in the opposite corner of Sunderland goalkeeper Kieren Westwood’s net.
It was a superb finish from the 18-year-old Manchester United winger, his second of the game after a coolly sidefooted equaliser seven minutes earlier. That volley just past the hour mark proved to be the winner at the Stadium of Light, where manager David Moyes must have been the most relieved man at the final whistle after managing to avoid a third consecutive league defeat.
For that, he has the latest boy wonder to emerge from Old Trafford to thank. Not since Cristiano Ronaldo’s exploits, arguably, have United supporters seen a youngster genuinely send their hearts racing.
Moyes has to be commended in having enough faith to thrust the Belgian-born talent into the starting line-up, having seen him impress in two previous substitute appearances. Perhaps he was convinced by Januzaj's 25-yard stunner for the Under-21s a few days earlier. The Scot was fully repaid with a performance that showcased a star in the making.
From the first whistle, Januzaj looked like the only United player willing to run at Sunderland’s defence. Deployed on the left, he had no qualms in asking for the ball, always making himself available and even moving into the centre to receive it when the flanks were not an option.
He showed no fear. With star duo Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie misfiring, he stepped up. A shot that flashed just wide in the first half, after a neat drop of the shoulder had sent his marker the wrong way, was a warning sign.
Easily their brightest player after United had trailed on four minutes and continued to be abysmal – apart from David de Gea, who produced a wonder save to keep them in the game – Januzaj stepped it up a notch after the break.
The composure he displayed for his first goal was ice-cool, the accuracy unerring. Even more encouragingly, there was no over the top celebration, no fuss. Januzaj simply hurried back to the centre circle for the restart, well aware that a draw would not be good enough. At his young age, that is remarkable maturity.
Januzaj’s second displayed his excellent technique, burgeoning talent and match-winning ability all in one. It announced his arrival to the world on his first league start.
Most of them would have got their first glimpse of him during United’s pre-season tour, where he scored a header against Hong Kong side Kitchee SC, then subsequently their Community Shield victory against Wigan. Regular watchers of the Red Devils’ youth teams will tell you that Januzaj has long been a star in the making.
The former Anderlecht youth did not take long to impress for the Under-18s after joining United in July 2011. A serious injury hit him, but did not get him down. The next year, he was already featuring for the Reserves and played a big part in them capturing the title.
Creativity, passing, dribbling – Januzaj has all these in spades in his locker, and more. His poise and elegance on the ball is a delight to watch, the ability to glide past players remiscent of a young Ryan Giggs. Capable of playing on either flank and behind the main striker, an extended spell as the lone forward with the U21s also added another dimension to his game. His being named the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year was a mere formality.
It is not hard to see why Januzaj has always been highly regarded and not a surprise that he has broken through this season. Neither is the fact that England want him in the Three Lions jersey in future, with the Brussels boy of Kosovar-Albanian parentage also apparently wanted by Turkey and Croatia, amongst other nations.
Of course, such precocious talent does not always necessarily guarantee a future at the Theatre of Dreams. The name of Federico Macheda instantly springs to mind, as well as those of Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and to a lesser extent, Mats Daehli.
But there is optimism that the latest fledgling from United’s Academy will sign a new contract, with his current one running out at the end of the year. Januzaj can bring an atmosphere of positivity at the club if he continues his progress there, as Moyes seeks to build his own era.
Januzaj looks truly destined to be a United star and if he continues his rapid ascension, it won’t be long before the 44 on the back of his jersey is replaced by the number seven.