Paulo Dybala, Jadon Sancho, Gareth Bale, Kalidou Koulibaly, Bruno Fernandes and… Daniel James (who?) are some of the names reportedly at the top of Manchester United’s transfer wishlist this summer.
The 2018/19 Premier League season isn’t even over yet but already it seems Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have his first signing of the summer wrapped up, with a £15million deal for promising Swansea City attacking midfielder James reportedly already agreed.
The young Welshman, 21, may not be the biggest of names. In fact, most United fans have probably never heard of him, but he’s had a breakout season with the Welsh side in the Championship and scored the winner on his Wales debut against Slovakia in March.
But just who is he? We cast a microscope over the rapid young Yorkshire-born forward and find out a little more.
Name: Daniel Owen James
Age: 21 (DOB 10/11/97)
Birthplace: Beverley, Yorkshire
Height: 5ft 7in
Hull City 2006–2014
Swansea City 2014–2016
Swansea City 2016-present
Shrewsbury Town (loan) 2017
Wales U17 2013-2015 8 (2)
Wales U19 2015-2016 5 (1)
Wales U20 2017-present 3 (1)
Wales U21 2016-present 11 (0)
Wales 2018-present 2 1
WHO IS HE?
Born in Beverley, east Yorkshire, to a Welsh father and English mother, Daniel Owen James joined the Hull City academy in 2006, before signing for Swansea for an initial fee of £72,000 in 2014.
He became an integral part of the club’s U23 side that gained promotion to the Premier Development League Division 1, winning the league with an 11-point margin. James helped the young Swans win the Premier League Cup, reach the semi-finals of the Premier League International Cup and the quarter-finals of the EFL Trophy.
On the back of his strong performances, James was included in the first team squad for the first time in January 2016 for the FA Cup defeat to Oxford United – although he didn’t make his senior Swans bow until the 2017/18 campaign, coming on as a late substitute and scoring a goal in an 8-1 FA Cup victory over Notts County on February 6.
His rapid progress prior to that had seen him offered a new three-year contract. He was on the bench in October 2016 for the Premier League fixture against Stoke City.
After his first senior appearance at the Liberty Stadium, James made his league debut on August 17 last year in the 0-0 draw against Birmingham in the Championship. He scored his first league goal in November during a 4-1 home defeat against eventual champions Norwich.
James became a regular during a decent campaign for the south Wales club in which Graham Potter led them to a 10th-placed finish.
He was headed for Leeds United in the January transfer window after a £10m fee was agreed between the clubs, but it broke down due to a disagreement in the Liberty boardroom.
James, who had agreed terms, completed the medical and was at Elland Road, was left wondering if the deal had been completed when the window shut at 11pm.
James was first called into the Welsh U17 squad in 2013 and has represented the Dragons through the age grades, earning his first senior call-up to Chris Coleman’s 2018 World Cup qualifying squad against Serbia in 2017.
He made his senior bow for Ryan Giggs in a friendly against Albania last November and scored his first Wales goal on his full debut – the winner against Slovakia in the opening game of Wales’ Euro 2020 qualifying campaign at the Cardiff City Stadium in March.
Did we say pace? We meant lightening pace. You may not have heard of James but you probably have caught a glimpse of him – or a blur more like – as he set tongues wagging with a breathtaking goal for Swansea in a 4-1 FA Cup win over Brentford at the Liberty in February.
The diminutive young speedster won possession on the edge of his own box before accelerating effortlessly upfield, leaving three Bees opponents trailing in his wake and steering a composed finish past keeper Luke Daniels.
His run was clocked at 36kph, which is almost identical to Arjen Robben’s world-record pace of 37kph from 2014.
James has said that Manchester City star Raheem Sterling has shaped his game and the flying forward would do well to study the development of the England star who has become a deadly creator and finisher of goals for both club and country over the last two seasons.
Supremely comfortable on either foot, it’s difficult to gauge which one is actually his stronger as James regularly switches between using his left and right as he scampers down either flank, terrorising defenders.
An attacking midfielder who has featured with regularity across Swansea’s front line this season, he is comfortable on either wing and can also play through the middle too.
Should he make the move to United and feature significantly next season, expect him to be winning a few fouls. James was fouled a total of 90 times during 33 appearances this season – the fourth most fouled player in the league behind Jack Grealish, John McGinn and Harry Wilson, at an average of 2.7 times per game.
To put that into context to the league above, Eden Hazard (104) was the most fouled player in the Premier League.
While his pace is frightening, it’s not purely blind speed that bamboozles defenders as James’ close control is a joy to behold. He’s got a trick and his vision and passing range are underrated items in his arsenal.
He led Swansea with assists in the Championship, registering seven across the season, while he also knows where the goal is too, scoring four and six in 38 appearances in all competitions.
His pace may get him into great positions but he also knows what to do when he gets into the attacking third too, with his delivery from wide areas impressive and ability to find a gap between defenders to slip in team-mates dangerous.
Great to see Utd rebuilding starting with Daniel James at Swansea 🦢 saw him in the FA cup destroy Man City and they would have won if there was VAR at all the games in the quarter finals dodgy ref,first thought he would be great for United. He’s already scored for Wales 🏴. 👍🏼😁— Clayton Blackmore (@cgblackmore) 11 May 2019
As with any player slight in stature, there are going to be question marks over his physical and mental toughness, and durability. His searing pace will make him a magnet for the Premier League’s hatchet men and all it takes is for one mistimed tackle from a vengeful defender sick of being embarrassed to end a season, or even a career.
And, while pace may be his friend right now, if he were to suffer a debilitating injury, it could prove to curtail his effectiveness. James can look at the career of Michael Owen to gauge just how costly hamstring injuries can be to players blessed with pace.
Making the step up
Plenty of players have made the step up to the Premier League from the Championship but it is a seismic chasm to bridge. For a player who’s only just completed his first season at senior level, the 21-year-old doesn’t exactly have an extensive catalogue of appearances to showcase.
And plenty of other promising players from the second tier have failed to make the grade when stepping up to the elite level.
Michael Tonge, Matej Vydra, Cameron Jerome, Adel Taarabt and Jordan Rhodes are just a few of the players who proved to be beasts in the Championship, but were burdened when making the step up.
On the other hand, if there’s any trepidation on James’ part, there are also plenty of success stories too – namely James Maddison who’s been a revelation at Leicester City this season after being acquired from Norwich a year ago.
David Brooks has been brilliant at Bournemouth after moving from Sheffield United last summer too, while Dele Alli climbed from League 2 MK Dons to triumph at Tottenham and England. Aaron Ramsey was a diamond unearthed from the Championship rough and went on to build a decade-long career at Arsenal.
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT HIM
Wales boss Ryan Giggs: “He is a talent, and when you have got that raw pace you are a threat at any level. As a winger, you then have to develop the other parts of the game, which I feel that he is doing.”
Swansea manager Graham Potter: “Dan’s courage is incredible, to not only have the ability, but to ride the challenges. He’s a top player.”
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