James Maddison and Dele Alli prove Man United fans should be excited by Daniel James

Matt Jones - Editor 18:14 11/05/2019
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James celebrates his stunning goal in Swansea's FA Cup win over Brentford.

Such is the thirst for instant success and vitriol produced as a by-product of a miserable season, many Manchester United fans are embarrassed by the fact one of the world’s biggest clubs could make an unknown Championship player their first signing of the summer.

Versatile and promising Swansea City forward Daniel James is reportedly on the verge of a £15 million move to Old Trafford, with the clubs said to have agreed a fee. The move appears a formality.

Ignore the fact the 21-year-old possesses searing pace, is comfortable on either foot, registered the most league assists at the Liberty Stadium and scored the winner on his first start for Wales in an impressive breakthrough 2018/19 season.

United fans don’t want to hear about that. They want marquee signings.

Big names like Jadon Sancho, Paulo Dybala and Kalidou Koulibaly. They want a statement of intent from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and an insipid club board that have failed to deliver time and time again in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013.

Forget the fact United have blown close to £700m since his exit, shelling out fortunes on a succession of duds who have completely flopped or are still yet to live up to their price tags.

Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Memphis Depay, Alexis Sanchez, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial. There’s six big names for you, United fans.

Six stars who have failed to shine significantly in a red shirt.

United parted with big money to acquire Di Maria - but he flopped.

United parted with big money to acquire Di Maria – but he flopped.

Yet here is a player in James who’s on an upward curve. Swansea finished a respectable 10th in the Championship, yet manager Graham Potter has spoken of James already being at the level of a top-six Premier League club.

You also have to believe his national team boss Ryan Giggs has had a word in the ear of former team-mate Solskjaer.

Of course, the club need experience and proven ability at the top level to arrive this summer – especially having lost someone like Ander Herrera on a free transfer this week.

It’s been season in which Jose Mourinho – despite his outdated tactics – was harshly thrown under the bus by under-performing players. Solskjaer – after a stunningly, but brief turnaround – was then disgracefully let down by the same senior stars who initially performed like players reborn under the Norwegian.

United fans should be yearning for young, hungry, hard-working characters eager to earn the right to wear the shirt. Not act like they already own it.

But this is the way of United fans in the modern day, especially on social media.

One fan on Twitter summed it up succinctly when he described most Red Devils followers as initially claiming earnest, industrious players should be targeted rather than talented, power-hungry Galactico-types. Only to be then baulk at a relative bargain being plucked from relative obscurity.

A cursory look at the current Premier League season throws up a handful of fine players reared in the Championship – and even below.

James Maddison notched seven goals and seven assists in a superb season for Leicester City, instantly justifying his £22.5m acquisition from Norwich last season.

The 22-year-old was also called into the senior England team by Gareth Southgate in October for the UEFA Nations League matches against Croatia and Spain, though he is yet to make his Three Lions bow.

Martial has regressed horribly this season and appears to be a disruptive influence in the dressing room.

Martial has regressed horribly this season and appears to be a disruptive influence in the dressing room.

Stepping into a new environment can be tough for any player, let alone one making the gargantuan leap from the Championship to England’s top-flight. And yet, Maddison has been the lynchpin of Leicester’s season, the spark that makes them tick.

David Brooks had barely broken through at Sheffield United before he was sold to Bournemouth last summer. The 21-year-old settled instantly and notched five assists and also found the net seven times in a tasty campaign for the Cherries.

He was another who transformed his form to the international stage. Having already made his Wales debut in late 2017 he provided a stunning assist for Sam Vokes in a 4-1 friendly thrashing against Spain in Cardiff last October, and was then instrumental in a 1-0 victory over Slovakia as the Dragons began Euro 2020 qualifying in style.

In a Bournemouth side that can be susceptible defensively, they nevertheless catch the eye with their swashbuckling attacking play, of which the silky smooth Brooks has become an integral figure.

Club-mate Callum Wilson has earned England recognition this season after a spectacular nine months at Vitality Stadium. Plucked from League 1 Coventry City in 2014, the striker plundered 23 goals in his debut season which propelled the Cherries into the Premier League.

His returns since have been somewhat modest – five, six and eight goals in the last three seasons – but he has enjoyed an immense 2018/19 campaign, breaking double figures for the first time and international recognition has followed. The 27-year-old bagged a debut goal in a 3-0 friendly win over the United States in November.

The shining example is Dele Alli. His form has tailed off for Tottenham in 2019 somewhat, just three assists and five goals in the Premier League this season, but there can be no doubting the 23-year-old’s resplendent rise from League 1 and MK Dons, from whom he was signed in 2015.

He has gone on to enter double figures for goals for Spurs in every season since – bar 2018/19 – and already owns 35 England caps.

Though he’s suffered a dip there’s little doubt the mercurial attacking midfielder has a big part to play for both club – he is sure to feature in the Champions League final against Liverpool next month – and country for years to come.

Even if you’re a United fan, the club’s history is smattered with players who thrived having being bred in the lower leagues. Denis Iriwn, Andy Cole, Steve Coppell, Gary Pallister and Chris Smalling all came from humble beginnings but established themselves as part of trophy-winning squads.

After numerous false dawns under various managers since Ferguson retired, United reached a nadir this season. Change is essential – both in terms of tactics, attitude and transfer policy.

A club that forged its reputation on nurturing and promoting youth should be excited. James, with pace to burn, vision and bravery, is exactly the sort of exciting young attacking talent United require. James has something to prove and United have everything to gain.

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