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.
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It’s been season in which Jose Mourinho – despite his outdated tactics – was harshly thrown under the bus by under-performing players.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.
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.
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.”
The 29-year-old’s deal expires at the end of the season and he is believed to have committed to Paris Saint-Germain over another option.
There had been no official word until Saturday, though, when Herrera posted a goodbye message to United’s fans via the club’s official Twitter account.
“There is red in my heart, I knew it from the first time I played here and in the moment I started to wear it,” Herrera said.
“A club with thousands of fans who respect and remember all the players who give everything. I felt special when I heard my name chanted. I felt proud when the fans decided I was part of this incredible history.
“Every time I represented this club, in every game, in wins and losses, even when I couldn’t help from the grass, I understood what this club means.
“I am going to remember each of the almost 200 matches that I have played with this jersey. Because playing for the greatest club in England, has been a true honour. Thanks for these five amazing years.”
Herrera, twice capped by Spain, joined United from Athletic Bilbao in 2014 and has gone on to make 189 appearances for the club, winning the FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League along the way.
Press Association Sport understands Herrera was intending to stay at Old Trafford and sign a contract extension, only for a lack of communication to see the Spaniard formulate a plan to leave.