The Hairdryer

Beauty and the Beast: Januzaj can dive, but must deal with consequences

You would hope that Adnan Januzaj is made of sterner stuff than Ashley Young.

Both scored excellent goals in Manchester United’s 3-1 win over West Ham, but the contrast between the pair’s recent career could not be starker.

Januzaj has burst on to the scene as United’s Great White Hope and, if you believe the rumours, a future England star.

Young, having been an exciting signing in his early days at Old Trafford, lost all confidence and form and looked on his way out of the club; it is a miracle that David Moyes decided to give him a chance, and until scoring twice in two matches, the former Aston Villa and Watford winger was widely expected to be shipped out in January.

Young has always had a tendency to blow hot and cold, and those cold patches were better tolerated at smaller clubs; at United, a slump can be terminal.

But the public backlash to his tendency to, um, ‘over-elaborate’ when challenged appeared to really have an impact on Young.

Criticised and jeered even by fans of his own club, Young’s decline in popularity started before his decline in form. A confidence player, and a fragile one at that, Young’s performances dropped to such an extent that you wondered if he would ever recover.

Januzaj shows a similar tendency to embellish his falls.

Before he was booked for a ludicrous swan-dive against West Ham, the Belgian-born playmaker had already been treated with suspicion by referee Mike Jones: on two occasions possible fouls were ignored as the former Anderlecht trainee seemed to make the most of minimal contact.

And when James Collins stuck out a leg late in the first half on Saturday, Januzaj flung himself into the air and down to the turf, a good foot away from the Welshman and without even having the decency to initiate contact with the outstretched limb.

This time Jones did not hesitate to card Januzaj, who later in the match found himself on the wrong end of some hefty challenges that could have been more harshly punished by the ref.

Repercussions during the match itself are just the start, though. In addition to clouding officials’ judgement in later decisions, diving or simulation has a wider negativity on these isles.

The empty claims that British players don’t dive, or only do so because those dirty foreigners taught them to, are clearly nonsense. English players have cheated as long as they have played the game, and while such antics are less socially acceptable in British sport, they nonetheless exist at the highest level, when money and titles are on the line.

But the widespread contempt with which supporters hold divers and fakers means that those who choose to take the path of gamesmanship must expect a backlash, and be ready to manage it accordingly. Januzaj will have to learn to deal with that.

The penny appears to have finally dropped for Young. Until a couple of weeks ago, he was reluctant to speak about accusations of diving, with Sir Alex Ferguson repeatedly drawn into comment on the matter, as has David Moyes in his so far short reign as boss.

Last season incidents against QPR and Aston Villa particularly rankled, while then-Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini saw fit to engage United in a war of words on the matter.

This term he has been booked for diving against Crystal Palace but later won a penalty - which might just as easily have been a sending-off for a second dive - while he was also criticised for his antics in a Champions League match against Real Sociedad.

But just under a fortnight ago Young finally had his say, and was unrepentant.

"It's been talked about by the previous manager and the current manager, but that's in-house," Young said.

"I'm not going to comment on what's been said. I understand what you're saying [about gaining a reputation] and everyone is going to have their say on it, but the referees are giving decisions and that is where I think it lies."

Since apparently justifying his gamesmanship and embraced his 'pantomime villain' status, Young has regained confidence and improved on the pitch. The old flair has returned; he seems willing to take on a long shot, and is playing the instinctive and incisive game which earned him a transfer to Old Trafford in the first place.

Whether it is a long-term resurgence or a temporary comeback remains to be seen, but it is clear the player has lost the shackles of the last 18 months.

Januzaj appears a more confident, forthright individual. Despite his tender years - he is not 19 until February – the youngster’s interviews are engaging, intelligent and given in English more fluent than many of his native-speaking contemporaries.

Perhaps he is better equipped to deal with the inevitable backlash that will follow if the simulation continues; Januzaj has not commented on the matter yet, but opposition defenders have a tendency to kick the fleet-footed attacking midfielder, and he will no doubt feel that evasive action is justified. Fans in this country will not agree, but many United supporters are not British and will frankly not care one jot.

It would be sad if Januzaj is better known for exaggeration without the ball than for his remarkable first touch and silky skills. That is up to him.

But he would be advised to pick his battles a bit more carefully. Tossing yourself to the ground in a one-sided game against West Ham side is, frankly, a waste of a dive that should have been saved up to win a late penalty in a Manchester derby.

Reda Maher - @reda_eurosport