Adnan Januzaj has made the preliminary squad for Belgium’s World Cup appearance this summer, which is no surprise. After all, head coach Marc Wilmots courted the Manchester United youngster for a very long time and surely assurances were given that he’d have every chance to make the team were the 19-year-old to choose Belgium as his international side (which he did, of course).
That doesn’t mean he’s a lock to make the side, Wilmots said.
“I’ve put no pressure on them, but after my contract extension, a few weeks ago, they’ve called me to say they’d made up their mind and it is a wonderful thing.
“Adnan chose a country where there’s a lot of competition. The more competition, the better. But he has no guarantees – who knows me, knows I never give them.”
What are the odds Januzaj emerges from the 26- or 27-man squad to find himself repping Rode Duivels in their first World Cup since 2002?
Well, his ability as a winger or advanced middleman give him multiple options, and perhaps Christian Benteke’s injury could prod Wilmots into using him as a striker (Everton’s Romelu Lukaku and PSV’s Zakaria Bakkali are the only true strikers to earn recent call-ups besides Benteke).
If past World Cup rosters are a guide, there will likely be 9-11 midfielders in the mix. Several Belgians have dozens of caps and have been called up in the last year.
It’s either difficult or impossible to imagine Januzaj slotting ahead of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Nacer Chadli, Marouane Fellaini, Kevin De Bruyne, Radja Nainggolan, Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel or Mousa Dembele. There are also 21-year-olds Thorgan Hazard (Waregem) and Maxime Lestienne (Brugge), injured Porto star Steven Defour and 93-times capped 37-year-old Timmy Simons (Brugge).
Januzaj has to be hoping his versatility — he can play both right or left and perhaps striker — will get him the nod. And to me that’s the way he slides into the roster. Because if Wilmots only saw him as a midfielder, he’d only have hope as the “bring him for experience” player (which is possible, too).