There’s a party mood these days in San Sebastian. Real Sociedad are top of the league, going well in the Europa League, and still with last season’s Spanish Cup final against Athletic Bilbao to play.
Adnan Januzaj hasn’t always been the first to join the fun at the Basque club but on Sunday as the team made it four straight wins and left themselves only one victory away from their best start to a season ever, the 25-year-old former Manchester United winger was the life and soul.
Two mesmerising pieces of skill – one dribble that took him away from two rivals, and one standing cross, almost with no back-lift, that gifted Alexander Isak the only goal of the game – were the highlights and overall only David Silva could match him for his impact on the match.
Adnan Januzaj is the life and soul of Real Sociedad who are surprisingly top of LaLiga currently
The Belgian broke into the Manchester United first-team under David Moyes seven years ago
In a squad full of local boys – 16 of the 23 this season have come through from the youth academy – it would be easy for Januzaj to stay on the fringes.
It doesn’t help that he has often appeared to have one eye on an exit, with a move back to England – where he broke into Man Utd’s first-team in David Moyes’ torrid spell in 2013 – never too far away from the agenda.
His maverick style also occasionally works against him in coach Imanol Alguacil’s tightly-drilled unit. But this season it seems he has accepted that there is no better time than now for him to really start fulfilling his potential.
Sunday was only his third league start of the season but he will be hard to drop after such a performance.
‘I want to have a good season here,’ he told Radio Marca. ‘We are in the Europa League and I don’t just want to play it, I want to win it and get into the Champions League.’
That positive interview from September also included phrases such as: ‘Then we will see how things are’. And ‘I want the fans to remember me when I’m gone’, but at least he is 100 per cent committed for this campaign.
‘Imanol likes to fight with me. I think I’ve had more rollickings than anyone else in the squad. He is always angry with me but in a good way,’ he said of his relationship with the coach.
Alguacil wants Januzaj to have a more consistent impact in games. The Belgian is responding, perhaps in part because he knows his place in the team is by no means assured.
Januzaj hasn’t always been fully committed to Sociedad but wants to be a success this year
Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil (left) wants the winger to have a consistent impact on games
Jet-heeled winger Portu does not have his skill-set but he is direct with good end-product and very few dips in form. And there is no chance both Portu and Januzaj can play because on the other wing Spain international and La Real captain Mikel Oyarzabal needs a place in the side.
Fans are warming to Januzaj too. They are realising that the languid style does not come from a lack of application. ‘It’s the way I am,’ he says. ‘It seems that I’m not switched on but that’s just my style of play. I am always alert and want to win.’
Real Sociedad have not started as well in the league since they ended up runners-up in 2003. They also have the Europa League to contest and that, in part, is thanks to Januzaj.
Januzaj celebrates after scoring a crucial free-kick against Atletico Madrid last season
The 25-year-old was hobbling through the last minutes of the last game of last season when he scored with a deft free-kick that levelled a game against Atletico Madrid – and got Real Sociedad the point that took them into Europe.
‘The coach asked me if I was okay and I said yes but I was hurting,’ he said of the moment when Alguacil decided to throw him on as a late sub in the final match with a European place slipping away.
‘I went on and won the free-kick and scored it. I knew I had to hit it hard and low so it would either go in or take a deflection.’
Those in and around Sociedad believe the best is yet to come from the 25-year-old Belgian
There is a sense in San Sebastian that the best is yet to come from the winger who was once the player five different nations, including England, were fighting over.
The Belgian international says: ‘I know a lot is expected of me because a lot of people believe that I can make the difference.’
He certainly proved that on Sunday, in the 1-0 win over Cadiz that left his team top of the pile after 10 games played.