Leeds United are heading back to the Premier League after a 16-year absence, and for manager Marcelo Bielsa, promotion presents the perfect opportunity to finally land the signature of Daniel James from arch rivals Manchester United.
Daniel James was a target for Marcelo Bielsa early in his Leeds United tenure, but the deal between Swansea City and Leeds United collapsed literally at the eleventh hour on a cold January night in 2019. It was a frustrating affair for all concerned.
Despite the setback, the subsequent performances from Daniel James in the colours of Swansea City earned the Welshman a dream move to Old Trafford the following summer. As he hit the ground running in the Premier League the following season, it appeared that his failed move to Elland Road was a blessing in disguise.
But the revival of Anthony Martial, the emergence of Mason Greenwood and the form of Marcus Rashford, coupled with Daniel James struggling to repeat his early season performances, have resulted in very limited game time for a player who remains an integral member of Ryan Giggs' Wales team.
The belief of Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa is an eccentric genius who has spent his managerial career developing and improving players rather than buying the finished product. The intensity of his training session and his obsessional dedication to his work has been praised by those that are fortunate to play under him at Leeds United.
His character will make him a welcome addition to the Premier League, while Leeds United are a club that belong at the top of the English game. With a passionate support behind them, Elland Road will immediately become one of the toughest away fixtures in the league next season, regardless of how the manager approaches the transfer window.
Although his side have been crafted into Marcelo Bielsa's own vision over the course of the last two seasons, they will need to strengthen in the summer, and the fact that the manager has previously targeted Daniel James as a player who can fit into his style of play immediately makes him an obvious target as he struggles at Manchester United.
Still only 22, Daniel James has already suffered personal and professional setbacks since emerging through the ranks at Swansea City. His father Kevan accompanied him to Leeds United for the medical ahead of his failed transfer, but sadly passed away before he could see his son make his Manchester United debut.
Daniel James is out of favour at Manchester United
Although Daniel James made a positive impression on his arrival at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjær's side have significantly improved over the course of the last season. He remains a key member of the squad, but the cameo appearances that he is restricted to making offer little opportunity for him to rediscover the form that made the Stretford End sing his name.
With Borussia Dortmund and England starlet Jadon Sancho remaining a key target for Manchester United this summer, it appears that Daniel James will fall further down the pecking order. It would be an ironic twist in his career if Leeds United restore their interest now that they are once again competing against their rivals, but it is a move that makes a lot of sense.
With Wales qualifying for the EURO finals next summer, Daniel James will be desperate to play regular club football in the Premier League. Ryan Giggs remains a huge fan of the talented youngster, but the manager will have some big decisions to make when it comes to selecting his final squad, and regular game time is a key requirement.
On the season that Leeds United missed out on Daniel James, they also narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League. The failure to complete the transfer was highlighted in the media as a reason for the club failing to make it over the line, regarding Daniel James as the missing piece in Marcelo Bielsa's puzzle.
The Premier League return of Leeds United
“Everything that could be done was done,” explained Marcelo Bielsa in April 2019. “You know that James was going to come and didn’t come in January. I’m not underlying the importance of the absence of James, I’m underlying that the club struggled to get James. But with James or without him we should have finished first or second without any doubt.”
One year later, things are very different at Leeds United, and Marcelo Bielsa is now a much happier man having achieved his primary remit of Premier League promotion. The Argentine has established his place in club folklore, and the huge gamble that the club took in appointing him has more than paid off. His next task is to strengthen for the new challenges ahead.
Daniel James suffered some unfair criticism at Manchester United prior to lockdown as he became the scapegoat for the frustration of an under-achieving team. They are a side rejuvenated after the re-start, but it is Daniel James who has been left behind as competition for his position moves to another level. Being unable to repeat his earlier form has been particularly frustrating.
Although Daniel James will not want to give up on his Manchester United future just yet, he will know that he needs to play, and that such opportunities are now going to be few and far between for him at Old Trafford. In Marcelo Bielsa, there is a manager who has already shown a clear admiration and belief in him.
It was the failure of Leeds United to land Daniel James in January 2019 that made his move to Manchester United the following summer possible. However, he will be looking at Leeds United's promotion last night was a sense of what might have been, and Marcelo Bielsa will be more than aware of his current frustration as he looks to strengthen his squad.
Throughout his managerial career, Marcelo Bielsa has demanded the support of his employers, or he simply leaves. He will only work within circumstances that suit his plans, as Lazio found out in 2016 when he left the club from the Italian capital after just two days. Similar disputes also occurred in France with Marseille and Lille.
We have not yet seen the best of Daniel James, but he needs regular football to show that his early season promise at Manchester United was a true representation of his potential. Leeds United will embrace their return to the Premier League and will be desperate to make an early statement of intent, and now could be the perfect time to finally complete the deal for Daniel James.
Published 18 Jul 2020, 17:18 IST