On-loan Manchester United playmaker happy among familiar faces as he looks to make Sunderland tick

Adnan Januzaj battles for the ball against Shrewsbury Town in the EFL Cup, the night he scored a late winner to clinch a third round trip to QPR
Adnan Januzaj battles for the ball against Shrewsbury Town in the EFL Cup, the night he scored a late winner to clinch a third round trip to QPR

Growing up in Brussels, football-mad Adnan Januzaj can be forgiven for not knowing too much about Sunderland AFC.

Now, though, he finds himself playing for the club as he looks to kick-start his promising career.

And in a strange twist of fate he is surrounded by familiar faces on the training pitches at the Academy of Light.

Januzaj’s football career started in the youth teams of FC Brussels before a move to Anderlecht and then Manchester United – with Sir Alex Ferguson signing him at the age of 16.

And it was at United, that now Sunderland boss David Moyes handed the teenager his professional debut.

The attacking midfielder instantly caught the eye and made himself a household name back in 2013 when he scored twice against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, on his first start for United.

Januzaj, who is comfortable out wide or in the number 10 role, almost joined Sunderland last season on loan.

That move never materialised but Sunderland finally secured the 21-year-old’s services this summer.

For Januzaj, the chance to team up with Moyes again was a good opportunity and deadline day brought the added bonus of lifelong friend Jason Denayer arriving on loan from Manchester City.

Centre-back Denayer, also a Belgium international, grew up with Januzaj with the pair playing youth football together at Anderlecht.

“It is a bit weird. I scored two goals against them and now I am playing for Sunderland,” said Januzaj.

“I made my full debut against Sunderland as a professional player, my first start for Manchester United.

“Now I am back with the same manager, but at Sunderland, and he gives me a lot of chances to play.”

He added: “It is helpful to have Jason here too – we have known each other since we were kids.

“We grew up in the same city, I know him very well and we played in the same football team when we were younger.

“He is a really good guy, really professional and a good player; calm on the ball, he is strong and has played for the national team too.

“When I went to United and he went to City, we were friends/enemies, you know!

“Now we are back together at Sunderland, which is good.

“We were about 10 or 11 when we first started playing for Anderlecht and we were very close friends growing up.

“To have him here too is also a bit strange because we never knew something like this would happen.

“I didn’t know too much about Sunderland growing up, but I heard that Sunderland was a very good club – a family club – and when I played my first few games the fans were unbelievable.

“I am happy to be here and excited for the rest of the season.”

Januzaj – and fellow summer signings Donald Love and Paddy McNair – are following in the footsteps of several players who have made the switch from Old Trafford to Wearside.

John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley to name just a few of recent vintage.

“Danny Welbeck too,” added Januzaj.

“When he was young, he came here on loan.

“Many players have done that and gone back to the top.”

That, ultimately, is where Januzaj wants to be – back playing at the top level.

A productive season on loan at Sunderland will help his cause at Manchester United, when he returns to Old Trafford next May.

The weight of goalscoring responsibility has landed squarely at the feet of Jermain Defoe this season and last, when the 33-year-old netted 18 goals in all competitions to keep the club up.

But Januzaj, who already has a stunning EFL Cup-winning goal against Shrewbury Town to his name, is looking to share some of the load.

“Jermain can play on his own and score all the goals for Sunderland, but, of course, part of our job as a winger or number 10 is also to score and give assists – that is why we are here,” he said.

When asked if there was much more to come from him, Januzaj added: “Of course.

“I am a player that likes to dribble but can also make a simple pass to make something happen during the game.

“That is why the fans come to watch the players and to support their team.

“I enjoy the responsibility.

“Of course, when your confidence is high you try things that maybe when you don’t have confidence you don’t want to do.

“I am a player that needs to make something happen.”

He added: “We are ready for the Everton game on Monday and hopefully we can win our first game of the season, at the Stadium of Light.”