Fri. Feb 26th, 2021

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The awkward Van Gaal press conference that may have sealed Januzaj’s United exit

5 min read

It started off like any other early-season press conference.

A young player sat next to his manager, fielding questions on whether his first goal of the season had given him confidence, and whether he was optimistic over the amount of first-team opportunities he will get in the upcoming campaign.

Yet it soon developed into the manager having an unprompted two-and-a-half-minute rant about a seemingly innocuous question directed to the player, who ended up awkwardly slumped over in his chair, no doubt wishing he was anywhere else in the world.

The question Louis van Gaal had taken issue with was the suggestion to Adnan Januzaj that he had not been given a fair crack of the whip during the Dutchman’s first season in charge at Manchester United.


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“Adnan, do you see your long-term future at Manchester United?” a journalist asks in a pre-match press conference ahead of United’s Champions League play-off against Club Brugge in August 2015.

“Last year, a lot of people thought you weren’t really getting a chance and, even this summer, people thought you may go somewhere else. Do you think you’re here for a long time?”

Van Gaal is typically inscrutable as the question is being asked, drinking from a glass of water before fixing his glare on Januzaj as the player answers.

“Last year was last year, this year is this year,” the then-20-year-old attacker says. “I’m happy at Manchester United and I’m happy with the way the manager worked with me, so I don’t have any issues with that.”

It’s a fairly innocuous answer, and the press conference progresses, with no one aware that Van Gaal has taken issue with the question until the manager speaks unprompted.

“I want to make a statement, he said a lot of people,” Van Gaal says, pointing to the journalist. “I don’t know who those people are but Adnan had eight starts last season and 14 substitute appearances, so to say he didn’t have any chances is not true, in my opinion.

“I want to stipulate that because ‘a lot of people’ is not a good argument.”

When the reporter points out that Januzaj was considered one of the best outfield players in David Moyes’ single season in charge, Van Gaal then launches a stinging appraisal of how the young Belgian player was performing.

“The other players have no right, only Adnan has a right?” he asks. “No, he has to compete with 24 players.

“He’s 20 years old. The characteristics of a young player is he is not consistent and he has to show that. Maybe he can show it this season. It’s possible but in a club like Manchester United, you never have a guarantee of a position in the top 11.

“As media, you can say he was the best player and has to have a position. He’s sitting here and he’s very pleased that you are saying that but it’s so easy without responsibility to say that.”



Januzaj celebrates his last United goal at Aston Villa in August 2015
Januzaj celebrates his last United goal at Aston Villa in August 2015

During the last sentence, Van Gaal slaps Januzaj on the back, and the player breaks into a brief smile that fades incredibly quickly, almost as if the youngster is realising how little he is rated by his manager.

At the time, it was not a moment that was remarked upon much, with reports from the press conference stating it reflected just how tense Van Gaal was on the eve of United’s return to the Champions League – especially as he got the amount of substitute appearances Januzaj made the previous season wrong (it was actually 13).

Yet, looking back, it is hard not to view the press conference as one of the moments where it was clear Januzaj’s career at United would not become what many hoped, or expected, it would be.

Unsurprisingly, he was loaned off to Borussia Dortmund just two weeks after the press conference exchange took place.

Prior to that, the youngster was tried in a no. 10 role in four of United’s first six matches at the start of Van Gaal’s second season at Old Trafford, netting a winner against Aston Villa before also starting in the game against Club Brugge.



Louis van Gaal speaks with Adnan Januzaj in 2015

Yet, despite these starts, Januzaj was substituted in every game, with 72 minutes being the longest amount he played for.

Today, it is clear that Januzaj was not a fan of Van Gaal’s management, and he says he would likely still be at Old Trafford if it were not for the Dutchman.

Whether that is true is up for debate; it is five-and-a-half years since Van Gaal opted to loan the player to Dortmund and a lot of hypotheticals would have to be considered in order to come to a conclusion over his claim.

Yet Januzaj was still a young player with just two years of senior experience when the press conference exchange took place.

Like most youngsters, Januzaj clearly thrived on confidence, and it is no coincidence that his best performances for the Reds came when Moyes put his full faith in the player.

It cannot be easy for any player, let alone one of such a young age, to go from feeling top of the world at Old Trafford one season to barely starting the following year and having his manager publicly dispute the notion he had been one of the best performers at the club before their arrival.

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Add in the fact that Januzaj was still in the process of learning how to play in a central position, it is pretty easy to understand why the attacker may have taken a big confidence hit by the time he was sent out on loan.

Considering Van Gaal gave 12 youngsters their senior debut during his two seasons at United, including the likes of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, his management of Januzaj is jarring to say the least – and this awkward press conference exchange goes a long way to showing that.

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