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Daniel James' potential the perfect Old Trafford tonic

  • Manchester United have reportedly turned to the Championship to revive their fortunes, and Daniel James could be the man to do just that.
Mark Pitman
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Feature
Modified 20 Dec 2019, 23:00 IST

Daniel James could be the surprise signing to spark a new and exciting era at Manchester United
Daniel James could be the surprise signing to spark a new and exciting era at Manchester United

Manchester United will not compete in the UEFA Champions League next season, and their failure to qualify for the world's biggest club competition will serve as a vital awakening that a new approach and new direction is needed if the club are to ever return former glory.

Despite the ink still being wet on his new contract, questions are already being asked about Ole Gunnar Solskjær's ability to lead the Old Trafford club through this latest period of transition, but the club now has no other option but to accept that reversing the decline is now nothing but a long-term project.

Future proof

For that project to succeed, stability is key, and the previous panic buying of established star names must stop. Financially, the club have over-spent on under-performing players for too long, but the evolution of the English Premier League means that this approach is no longer a guaranteed route to success.


Ole Gunnar Solskjær has seen his side struggle with form and confidence recently
Ole Gunnar Solskjær has seen his side struggle with form and confidence recently

Now Manchester United and Solskjær must build and develop an identity and culture with an emphasis on the values that have brought glory to Old Trafford in the past. There is a spirit attached to the great Manchester United teams of old that the manager must now conjure from the ashes of this damaged club, and it means shopping in a very different marketplace.

The kids are alright

Swansea City's relegation from the Premier League last summer has brought advantages for the south Wales club, and one of those advantages of playing in the Championship has been the opportunity to bring through and develop players from the youth system. Connor Roberts, Joe Rodon and Daniel James are prime examples of this approach yielding positive results.

And it is James who was making headlines on Friday with reports that a £15m transfer to Manchester United was on the cards. The 21-year old winger was close to moving to Leeds United earlier in the season having impressed manager Marcelo Bielsa, but their £10m valuation and the payment plan was considered unsuitable by outgoing chairman Huw Jenkins, and James remained at the Liberty Stadium.


Ryan Giggs has been impressed with Daniel James this season
Ryan Giggs has been impressed with Daniel James this season

Wales manager Ryan Giggs is a decent judge of a winger, and there is no doubt that he will have had some influence in Manchester United making a move for the young Swansea star. Giggs knows what it takes to play in that position at Old Trafford, and he has seen enough in James to promote him into the Welsh senior side, despite only recently establishing himself in the Championship.

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Dragon's debut

James lived the dream on his first international start for Wales back in March, as the scored the only goal in the 1-0 victory over Slovakia in Cardiff. It provided Wales with the perfect start to their UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying campaign, and there is no doubt that James will be a key figure for his country throughout the course of the competition.

Daniel James is already an important part of Ryan Giggs
Daniel James is already an important part of Ryan Giggs' international plans with Wales

Having represented Wales at every age group, the winger is well-versed in the Welsh way of playing, and he is one of the most exciting prospects in a very talented group of young stars. However, there is something special about James when he gets the ball. His pace and positive movement displays a maturity and confidence and frightens defences, and there is a clear determination in his game to score goals.

In fact, James is the perfect prospect for Manchester United and Solskjær. Still raw with plenty to learn, his potential can be moulded into the United way, while he has already shown the desire in his attitude needed to succeed at the highest level. Solskjær can bring the best out of him, and Old Trafford will embrace his style of play and how it compares with Giggs in his own glory days at the club.

Some people will consider this to be a bad time to join a club like Manchester United. With confidence low and Champions League football omitted from the fixture list next season, James could struggle under the negative attention that follows the club around at the present time. However, it is a well-considered theory that you must reach the lowest point before you can begin to climb, and United have well and truly arrived.

Defining a new era

Big money flops mean that it is now time for a new approach at the club, and taking one step back will result in the club eventually taking two or three steps forward with the right foundation behind the process. Previous managers have discovered the hard way that there is no quick-fix at Old Trafford, and only hard work and belief in potential will ensure the club rebuilds under the umbrella of its true values.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his backroom staff now have to plan for the long-term
Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his backroom staff now have to plan for the long-term

James has the potential to be a future star, of that there is no doubt. If he can make it on the biggest stage, he could be a defining figure of a new era at Manchester United, and that is a position that others will only look at in envy. He has plenty of work to do, but he has shown enough with Swansea City and Wales this season to suggest he can take on the mantle.

The next Giggs?

Big names will not bring the excitement back to Old Trafford any longer. They have tried and failed with such short-sighted plans too often in the recent past. It is time to regroup and rebuild with a new approach built upon the true Manchester United spirit, and the fans will appreciate the approach having now become accustomed to failure.


There are clear similarities between Giggs and James in their style of play
There are clear similarities between Giggs and James in their style of play

It is worth remembering how Giggs himself emerged at Manchester United as a teenage prodigy in the early 1990s, and how his flair sparked and defined an era of success. He has already seen the same potential in James, and now Old Trafford could be about to witness something special too.

Published 10 May 2019, 23:08 IST
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