The Hard Tackles assesses the situation surrounding Manchester United winger Daniel James amid widespread interest from Premier League clubs.
After making solid progress on the pitch during the 2020/21 campaign, Manchester United seem to be following it up in the transfer market as well. The Red Devils finished as the second-best team in the Premier League behind neighbours Manchester City and came within whiskers of winning the UEFA Europa League, missing out via penalty shootouts in the finals.
Considering the progress, it was important that Manchester United show the right intent in the transfer window in order to close the gap to the top. And, it is safe to say that they have gone about their business in the summer trading period with that intent, checking off two major areas of concern within the squad with the arrival of Jadon Sancho and the imminent signing of Raphael Varane.
Sancho’s signing, in particular, was a long-awaited one, given Manchester United’s perennial problems on the right flank over the past decade or so. The 21-year-old arrives with the reputation of being one of the most talented young wingers in Europe after enjoying a successful spell in Germany with Borussia Dortmund and is expected to walk right into the Red Devils’ lineup.
However, with the signing of Sancho, some of the other forwards at Manchester United may suddenly be deemed surplus to requirements. And, one name that immediately springs to the minds is that of Daniel James. The 23-year-old was not exactly a regular starter for the Red Devils in the season gone by and with Sancho’s arrival, there is a danger of him being pushed further down the pecking order.
Given the situation, James is attracting interest from several Premier League clubs this summer, including Leeds United, who almost signed him prior to his move to Old Trafford. Brighton & Hove Albion are also keen, with Graham Potter looking to reunite with his former Swansea City protege.
While it was initially believed that Manchester United may be open to letting him leave, at least on a loan deal, The Sun claims that it is not the case, with the club planning to hold on to him this summer and potentially hand him a new contract as well. The Hard Tackle now assesses whether that is the right call from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & co.
Daniel James at Manchester United
Having spent the early phase of his youth career at Hull City, James made his way to Swansea in 2014 and slowly made his way up through the youth ranks before enjoying a breakthrough in 2018. After a solid 2018/19 campaign with the Welsh outfit, the 23-year-old soon made his way to Manchester United, signing in a deal worth £19 million.
There was a lot of skepticism over the transfer at the time, considering that he had just one full season of senior football under his belt and the fee that was paid. However, James answered the critics in stunning fashion, scoring on his debut for Manchester United. The 23-year-old speedster went on to score thrice in his first four Premier League outings, and all seemed rosy.
However, James then hit a dry patch of form that saw him go without a single goal for the rest of the 2019/20 season, while he managed just one in other competitions. Of his seven assists in the season, only one came in the second half of the season, meaning he gradually lost his place to Mason Greenwood, who made the most of the chances that came his way.
So, when the 2020/21 season rolled in, James, in effect, had become an afterthought for Solskjaer, who rarely used him in the Premier League (11 starts), with most of his playing time coming in the UEFA Europa League. While he did enjoy a brief run of good form, the 23-year-old only managed five goals and two assists in all competitions.
In all, James has made 18 goal contributions in 72 games in his two years at the Theatre of Dreams, with his decision-making and end product found lacking time and again.
The current situation at Manchester United
As iterated earlier, James was not a regular starter for Solskjaer last season. Mason Greenwood was prefererd over him on the right flank quite regularly while the manager even opted to field Marcus Rashford on the right, even though the Englishman wasn’t always effective on that side. So, with the arrival of Jadon Sancho, things are likely to get bleaker for the Wales international with regard to his game-time.
— Jadon Sancho (@Sanchooo10) July 24, 2021
Furthermore, Amad Diallo has had a good six to eight months with the team and has shown enough in his handful of appearances that he can be given more responsibilities. Then there is Facundo Pellistri, back from his loan spell at Deportivo Alaves, scoring in the pre-season clash against Derby Country, which will have given some food for thought for Solskjaer with regard to his options on the flanks.
Solskjaer can also turn to the likes of Jesse Lingard, who seems like he is staying put, as well as Juan Mata in case he needs options on the flanks over the course of the season. Even Paul Pogba found himself playing on the left flank at times in the previous campaign, while young Anthony Elanga waits in the wings as well. So, on surface, Manchester United seem to have enough options in the eventuality that James leaves the club.
However, Rashford is set to miss a significant chunk of the early season due to injury. And, with Amad away on Olympics duty as well, he, too, is expected to be eased back into action. With Anthony Martial likely to be sold this summer, Greenwood will be needed to deputise in the No. 9 role for Edinson Cavani unless United sign a new centre-forward as well, which seems unlikely considering that they have already spent heavily.
Last chance saloon for James?
All of this could end up ending in favour of James to a large extent. With Rashford unavailable and Greenwood likely to play in the No. 9 role, Manchester United might still have some use for the Welshman. While he hasn’t exactly set the stage alight for quite some time now, what works in his favour is that he has considerably more experience and exposure compared to the likes of Amad and Pellistri, who could still be loaned out.
Manchester City have shown the importance of having depth in the squad over the course of a season to achieve success. And even though he may not be the first name on the team sheet, Manchester United may well benefit from holding onto James for another year, allowing for Rashford to complete his recovery without having to rush him back.
However, at the same time, it would also be pretty much a last chance for James. The 23-year-old can be a nuisance to opposition with his pace, but unless his end product and decision-making improve, unless he is able to impact games in more meaningful ways, United would be better off moving on in the next year.