Connect in the back of the net

A football club is like a house. Or rather a home.

The fans, the players, the manager, staff and board all together in the same stadium form some sort of extended family. [Patriarchal] authority lies with the staff and board while tantrums and fits of anger can be readily relied upon by the players and fans.

It all forms part of the fun and builds the sense of unity that being involved in a club brings. Over the past 30 years the best example of a club operating as a home is arguably the aptly named, Manchester United.

For 25 years Sir Alex Ferguson reigned supreme, guiding the club, its players and fans and probably its board at times, with a firm hand towards continued and repeated success.

Sure, it wasn’t all plain sailing, over time good eggs turned to bad eggs and were dispensed of (Keane, Beckham, Van Nistelrooy) and Sir Alex didn’t always get everything right (Stam). But more often than not Ferguson did get it right and when he eventually came to retirement, he did so having established United as the most successful English club in history with 19 League titles.

Under Ferguson, United as a club was so strong in fact that it overachieved for a number of years. In 2012 United beat Arsenal 2-0 in an FA Cup tie with a midfield comprising Brazilian twins Rafael and Fabio on the wings and John O’Shea and Darren Gibson in the centre (honestly).

 

Crack in the family unit

So when Sir Alex Ferguson relinquished his stranglehold on English football in 2013 there was a collective sigh of relief from the rest of the League and a sharp intake of breath from the red half of Manchester.

A crack had appeared in the family unit.

Would cracks turn to fissures? Would the family fall apart? Would new Daddy be as good as old Daddy? Uncertainty crept in.

 

Moyes takes over

Recognising that his departure would spark fears of armageddon both Sir Alex and the club made efforts to alleviate concern by laying down a marker of the stability to come.

It was announced early on, before the end of the season in fact, that Everton’s long serving manager David Moyes would come in as Sir Alex’s replacement on a 6 year contract.

The appointment screamed continuity, Moyes was the Premier League’s third longest serving manager, having been in charge of Everton for 11 years, he was chosen by Ferguson and he also happened to be Scottish.

Beyond that, Moyes’ appointment was a statement. United made it clear that they weren’t like Chelsea or Real Madrid, living for the now with a series of short term managerial flings ending as soon as the owner’s wildest fantasies weren’t satisfied.

United were well, united. Manager, players, board and fans were married together for the long haul. Divorce was not an option, a few tough years were worth it in the long run for the sake of the household. 

 

Dismal tenure

Unfortunately for everyone involved, United’s happy household began to fall apart at the seams rather quickly.

That summer’s transfer activity was a showreel of embarrassing failures. Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale and Thomas Mueller were all publicly courted with Moyes wanting a crown jewel to usher in a new dawn and add much needed quality to his new side.

In the end United only ended up signing Marouane Fellaini, for £27.5 million. Hardly a statement signing, especially when you consider he could have been signed for £22 million if United had activated his release clause before it expired at the end of July.

Under Moyes the mighty Red Devils began the season with only 6 points from 7 games. It just wasn’t supposed to happen like that.

Worse was to come though, by January it was reported that Moyes was losing the respect of United’s senior players, the metaphorical big brothers of the club and the players whose experience and stature mitigated the loss in prestige that accompanied Ferguson’s retirement.

Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra were those reported as being disillusioned and all three left Old Trafford the next summer. Vidic didn’t even wait until the end of the season to announce his departure, doing so in February.

Danny Welbeck also reportedly fell out with Moyes and left the following summer too, as a local lad his exit was keenly felt around the club, he wasn’t just a player he was truly part of the United family.

Moyes never made it to the following summer. He was sacked in April with United unable to secure a Champions League spot.

His tenure was a disaster and his career has never recovered. What was strikingly clear and worrying too, was how quickly United’s happy home fell apart.

 

The United house falling apart

Fans turned on the manager, with banners being flown above the stadium calling for his sacking.

Players were publicly critical and dismal performances became the norm with the club falling out of the title race in pretty much the first month of the season.

The people who had held the family together: Ferguson, his staff, senior players and certain board members had gone or were going.

The club as a household started to look very unhappy and increasingly empty, devoid of leadership and belief.

 

One shining light

Yet despite all the disaster, there was one shining light. A fresh-faced beacon of hope for the future who seemed to embody the United spirit and promised to deliver the club to back to former glory.

He also had a cow lick that 90s Hollywood would have killed for. Step forward Adnan Januzaj aka United’s Kevin McCallister.

When Kevin McCallister woke up in December 1990 and realised his family had left him home alone he would have been justified in losing his mind, but instead he got smart.

He manned the fort that was his ridiculously luxurious house, fighting off nefarious outside influences with skill, wit and cunning, until such time as his family could return and they could all live again in blissful white picket happiness.

His family didn’t deserve him, but they needed him.

Similarly, when Adnan Januzaj broke into the United first team having been at the club since he was 16, he could have been forgiven for crumbling because frankly, everything else was.

 

Sparkling performances

But did he crumble? No, he sparkled. He gave a freshness to United, he took players on, added a pace and vigour to the attack that was seriously lacking and in truth had been lacking for a number of years.

In February Januzaj scored 2 goals against Sunderland in a 2-1 win and in the way that only a footballer can, instantly became the Messiah. He was United’s boy and United’s main, possibly only, hope.

He gave fans something to cheer and Moyes something to cling to.

At 18, young Adnan should never have had so much responsibility placed upon him, but it was and he shouldered it manfully.

He was Old Trafford’s very own Kevin McCallister and just as Macaulay Culkin was nominated for a Golden Globe after his portrayal of Kevin, Januzaj was nominated as Ryan Giggs’ successor after his portrayal of United’s legendary winger, with the award of the prestigious number 11 shirt.

 

The curse of the child star

Culkin was the biggest child star since Shirley Temple and Januzaj was the biggest child star since Wayne Rooney. But how many child stars every really make it?

Despite the rip-roaring start to his career, things quickly turned sour for Culkin.

None of his subsequent films or television appearances made anything like the impact that his Home Alone performance had and he soon slipped out of the public eye, to a large extent wilfully.

In 2004 he was arrested for drug possession and nowadays you are most likely to come across him either in a Compare the Market advert or as part of his band The Pizza Underground, who swap lyrics for pizza puns.

Culkin’s life has at times been sensationalised with people desperate for him to be the drug addled former child star that would sell a hella lot of papers, but there is no denying that his name is now very firmly a part of the conversation:

‘Do you remember that kid from Home Alone? I wonder what he’s up to?’ 

Oh yeah what happened to him? Actually I think I saw something about him the other day, it wasn’t good.’

 

Following Culkin’s downwards path

At risk of jumping the gun, Januzaj’s career appears to be taking the same path as Culkin’s.

Following an underwhelming second season Januzaj was sent on loan to Borussia Dortmund who, before Monaco, were Europe’s finest house of exciting young talent.

Yet United’s big hope made only 6 league appearances and was recalled back to Manchester early. Last year he was loaned to Sunderland, reuniting with Moyes. The hope was that, back with the man under whom he had previously caught fire, he could do so again.

Sadly, he didn’t. Although hampered by playing in a frankly abysmal team, Januzaj failed to impress and in 25 appearances he scored 1 goal.

 

Early promise ebbed away

All that early sparkle, the promise of stardom, fame and fortune seemed to ebb away week by week in Sunderland (as admittedly, it tends to in Sunderland).

And just as new stars rose to the fore in Hollywood, new stars usurped Januzaj in Manchester. Anthony Martial now holds Giggs’ 11 shirt and Marcus Rashford is very much United’s boy, while Adnan Januzaj is now becoming very firmly a part of the conversation:

‘Do you remember that Januzaj kid? The one who played for United. I wonder what he’s doing now.’

Oh yeah he was supposed to be amazing. Doesn’t he play for that team now? I can’t remember their name.’

 

Still has time to turn things around

Perhaps the comparison is harsh. Januzaj is still young and at 22 has plenty of time to turn his career trajectory around.

He recently secured an £8.9 million move to Real Sociedad, the club which turned Arsenal flop Carlos Vela into a thoroughly decent player and which set Antoine Griezmann on the path to superstardom.

So all is not lost for Januzaj, although things are slipping quickly.

But even if he does continue to take the Macaulay Culkin approach to early promise, he should always be respected and remembered for his 2013/14 heroics and for being United’s Kevin McCallister, the boy who single-handedly tried to keep the family together.

 

Written by Scott Pope

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