Wayne Rooney has tentatively admitted he remains hopeful that his Manchester United team-mate Adnan Januzaj could yet join him in the England side.
Roy Hodgson, the England manager, sparked a furore when he revealed there is a hope the 18-year-old Belgian-born winger could qualify to play for the national side as soon as 2015. That timescale was open to interpretation with dates from 2016 (five years after he arrived in England) and 2018 (five years after his 18th birthday) also being touted around.
The Manchester United manager, David Moyes, disclosed he was aware of the Football Association’s interest in the player, who burst into public consciousness with two superb goals to give his side a 2-1 victory at Sunderland on Saturday.
It would still be a huge step, regardless of the year he qualifies, to move towards using players who qualify for England through residency. Even Hodgson, on Match of the Day, seemed to temper the enthusiasm for Januzaj that is clearly there.
The major concern for United is securing Januzaj’s signature on a new contract extending the one that expires at the end of the season. The memory of losing midfielder Paul Pogba to Juventus last year is fresh and, with influences around Januzaj potentially impeding the club’s endeavours to make him stay, retaining the player is a source of more anxiety than Moyes implied.
Rooney, who also revealed he will be fit for England’s World Cup double header with Montenegro and Poland, added to the intrigue by appearing to suggest he would like his United team-mate, who could also play for Belgium, Albania or Croatia, to join him on the international stage.
“He’s been here since he was 16, but I’m not sure of the rules,” he said. “I’m sure the FA will be doing everything they need to do to get him to play for England. It’s not down to me, but hopefully, I don’t know.
“He’s a great prospect,” Rooney added. “He takes the ball, he runs at players and he’s got great ability. I think it’s great the manager has thrown him into the side, especially with what has happened in the last few games. There was big pressure on us, but the manager has trusted him and he has repaid that.
“It is [brave to play him in the Premier League], we’re delighted it’s paid off. We know the ability he has got, but you never know how they are going to react when they are thrown into games. There is a lot of pressure, but he seems to thrive on it.
“He’s not shy. He’s very confident, I think that’s great to see. A lot of the young players who come through are a little bit timid and shy, but he looks comfortable and he’s confident in his own ability, which you need to be.”
With good reason. Januzaj scored two goals of genuine quality when United were in the position to lose their third successive Premier League game, against the bottom club. The two second-half goals, just six minutes apart, came first with a fine right-footed striker, and then with an exquisite left foot volley.
That was enough to see off the resistance of Sunderland, who had led in the first half through Craig Gardner. They were also denied a second that would have put them 2-0 ahead when the United goalkeeper David de Gea produced an outstanding stop to deny Emanuele Giaccherini.
“David’s save was one of the best I have ever seen,” said Moyes. “It was an incredible save and I said it straight away to the bench. That was a turning point. I didn’t think we deserved to be losing but if we had gone 2-0 down it would have left us with a mountain to climb and would have given Sunderland a great boost.”
Moyes also called Januzaj a “special talent” but plans to put the player back in the reserve side. “Yes, that’s the way we do things at Manchester United,” he said, “if we need to keep it right and if it is part of their development, to bring them on. But the way he has performed he deserves to be in the first team.”
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