Adnan Januzaj has responded to criticism of his attitude during his loan spell at Sunderland this season, insisting that he has always possessed a strong mentality.
The Belgian arrived at the Stadium of Light – the place where, back in October 2013, he announced himself to the watching world with a brace on his first Manchester United start – over the summer on a season-long loan after failing to breach Jose Mourinho’s first team.
He has drawn mixed reviews from supporters this season: some have praised his ability to produce moments of game-changing brilliance; others, like Phil Thompson, have chastised the youngster for his lack of consistency.
And Januzaj, speaking to the Shield Gazzette, was quick to hit back at those criticising his mental approach under David Moyes.
“I have always been strong mentally,” he said. “I have people that have always pushed me and know what I can do.
“Mental strength was never a problem. People were talking about me when I didn’t have much game time a year ago saying it was down to mentality. It wasn’t. I was not focused on that, I was focused on my football.”
“It is not easy, especially at this stage of the season. Jermain [Defoe] has scored most of the goals.
“It has not been easy for us. You have to create things and deliver for the others. It is not easy, most of the time you are defending and have to go counter-attack and go 30-40 yards with the ball and it is not always easy to do that.”
Pointing towards a player lacking consistency and immediately labelling them as ‘mentally weak’ is a common accusation made by pundits and supporters everywhere. But is it right?
Januzaj, after all, remains firmly in the nascent stages of his career, and it is natural – especially after two seasons of anonymity under Louis van Gaal – for the youngster to endure the occasional off day. This is part of the learning process: consistent delivery is something honed over a long stretch of time as opposed to being readily available.