A busy transfer deadline day saw a number of players leave Borussia Dortmund, but the one addition to the squad was, on the face of it, a peculiar one.
Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj has signed for BVB, and will complete the 2015/16 season on loan at Westfalenstadion before returning to Manchester.
Unfortunately for the 20-year-old, he has never quite had the appropriate reputation. A rapid rise to stardom under David Moyes saw Manchester United fans and the media praise him as a star, ‘the next Cristiano Ronaldo’. In response, fans of other clubs decided he was a useless, overrated and overhyped kid who would inevitably fail. The truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere between the two extremes.
Now in Dortmund for a year, what can BVB fans expect of the Belgian?
Where has he played?
In England, Januzaj has shown the capability to play in any of the three positions behind a striker. He’s an offensive player, and his attributes are adaptable. Comfortable on both feet, there’s nothing to say Januzaj has to play on one wing or the other.
“Adnan is a much sought after and technically gifted player who completes our attacking line-up”, BVB sporting director Michael Zorc told the official club website as the deal was confirmed.
Thomas Tuchel has spoken about wanting players who are capable in more than one position, and the Januzaj deal makes plenty of sense for Dortmund in that regard.
Most of the youngster’s direct impact on results, by which I mean goals and assists, during his time at Old Trafford have come with him playing from the left flank. Interestingly he’s stronger on his left foot so you may expect more when he plays on the opposite wing and can cut inside, but he is clearly adept with his right side as well.
Januzaj’s close control, good balance and ability to accelerate make him a very strong dribbler. His ability to use either foot well makes him unpredictable. He must be incredibly difficult to defend against when he’s running with the ball, as he is able to go either way and can shift direction very quickly.
When it comes to releasing the ball, he showed good vision during his spell in the Manchester United first-team under David Moyes. He certainly has the ability to play a killer pass, and always looks to move forward at pace.
When moving forward with the ball or looking to release an opponent, Januzaj favours a direct approach which should suit Dortmund’s game well.
His biggest weakness is probably his strength. Literally. Januzaj is a bit lightweight but, at 20, there’s plenty of time to work on that. His balance and close control ensures he isn’t dispossessed too easily, but he needs to become stronger to have the confidence to ride challenges and see off better opponents. Right now he can be pushed out of a game too easily and looks to win fouls cheaply rather than taking a challenge, giving him a reputation as a diver.
The other area he can improve is a common issue for plenty of young players. His decision making isn’t great. Confident in his ability to dribble, the Belgian often looks to beat one man too many rather than release the ball at the optimum moment.
Januzaj’s delivery from wide isn’t bad but crosses are often floated, once again improved decision making on the ball will help him improve on that.
When play is static a game may well pass him by but, with his and Tuchel’s preferred styles a good fit, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern.
Where does he fit for BVB?
The adaptability of the attacking midfielder is attractive, and no doubt the reason he was targeted by the club. In Thomas Tuchel’s current system there are three roles he can play, and play well.
With his ability to play with both feet, Januzaj is an option for either wing. This is whether or not Tuchel prefers someone to stay wide or play as an inverse winger who joins in more centrally. Even on his natural left side, Januzaj will look to occupy the half-space, allowing Marcel Schmelzer to provide width from left-back as he has done excellently so far this season.
On the right he will join in even more naturally, eager to play off his left foot. Though it hasn’t yet transpired at Manchester United he could, if he gets into a good rhythm, become a strong goal threat from the right.
The other role he could play is in the position currently occupied by Shinji Kagawa, which has been something of an 8/10 hybrid in the early weeks of the season. Good close control, acceleration and a willingness to move the play quickly make Januzaj well suited to that position, which Dortmund don’t currently have a great deal of cover for.
I was asked yesterday about his ability to press, but we will have to wait and see. Tactically he is intelligent, drifting into spaces to drag defenders out of position and open gaps. In his first season in the Premier League he very occasionally played centrally, often moving to the left to open areas for underlapping runs from Ashley Young, an inverse winger on the left of the midfield.
As he has featured in a league famously poor at pressing, and usually under the tutelage of David Moyes, we don’t know how useful he will be in that regard just yet. What we do know is there is clearly some innate tactical intelligence.
No matter where he plays, Januzaj should fit the flexible system, drifting between the lines to occupy both defenders and midfielders. From central areas he will drift wide and vice versa. Technically and tactically he seems a good fit, and Tuchel is likely to be the perfect coach for him.
Early suggestions were that Dortmund would have an option to buy Januzaj next summer, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Nonetheless, reports from Sky Sport and reliable local newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten have suggested that an informal agreement may be in place and the club are optimistic that, if the midfielder impresses, a permanent deal could be struck next summer.
Of course we don’t know the likelihood of that just yet, but the loan deal would make a lot of sense if Dortmund have taken the opportunity to develop a talented young player with the possibility of retaining him 12 months from now.
Will he be a success?
He’s more ready for football at a top club than Jeremy Dudziak and a better fit for Dortmund than Kevin Kampl. More dynamic than Kevin Großkreutz and more versatile than Jakub Błaszczykowski. Despite having my doubts, I think loaning Januzaj will be a good deal for Dortmund.