Profiling Manchester United's Daniel James: Have United unearthed the new Ryan Giggs? | SK Wonderkids
Manchester United’s struggles this season have been heavily documented, with pressure mounting on boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemingly every time his side fail to win a match. But it’s not all been doom and gloom at Old Trafford; a handful of younger signings have emerged to suggest a brighter future is on the horizon, and the player who’s arguably shone brighter than all has been Daniel James.
The Welsh winger signed with United in the summer for a fee of just £15m from Championship side Swansea City, and that in itself felt like somewhat of an outlier. Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson departed United in the summer of 2013, it’s felt like the Red Devils have simply wanted to flex their financial muscles when it comes to transfers, looking to buy the biggest names for the biggest fees – something the club were never known for even in their pomp.
Thankfully, James has proven that you don’t need to be a multi-million big name signing to make an impact at Old Trafford. The Welshman has had an instant impact at his new club, even if his contributions haven’t always been able to sway results in Solskjaer’s favour. Just four months into his United tenure, he’s already scored 3 goals and made 2 assists in the Premier League. So how did he get here?
“As a defender, you don’t really want him running at you with the ball. We just have to catch up with him when he crosses the ball by getting players into the box for him.” – current Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
At just 21 years old it wouldn’t be unfair to state that James doesn’t really have a storied and lengthy history in the game. After emerging as a talent with Hull City’s academy, James signed with Swansea City in 2014 for a fee of £72,000 and then began to work his way through their various youth teams – culminating in his elevation to the first-team squad for a Premier League match with Stoke in October 2016.
A failed loan move to Shrewsbury Town at the start of 2017/18 seemed to suggest that his talent had its limitations, but things changed for him back at the Liberty Stadium when new boss Graham Potter took over the reins in the summer of 2018.
Potter – renowned for unearthing talent and for also encouraging his sides to play in a progressive, attacking style – immediately thrust James into his starting XI, and by midway through the season he’d quickly become one of Swansea’s most outstanding players, scoring his first two goals for the club in the process.
A strange situation saw a potential move to Leeds United in January 2019 fall through, and it turned out to be Swansea’s gain, for a short time at least – James continued to perform well and ended the season with 4 goals and 7 assists in the Championship, and also starred in the club’s FA Cup Quarter-Final loss to Manchester City, ending the game with a 100% dribbling success rate.
The aborted Leeds move though had soured James and his agent on Swansea somewhat – and so it came as no surprise when he was sold in the summer for a fee of £15m. The destination – Manchester United – came as somewhat of a surprise for the reasons mentioned earlier, but the rest, as they say, is history.
“Against Manchester City, he matches the physicality of Kyle Walker, for example, and runs away from players at that level. That’s a direct comparison against Premier League players at the very top and you can see his quality. He plays alongside Gareth Bale (for Wales) and doesn’t look out of place. You look at his attributes and how he influences games at Championship level. He causes teams real, real problems.” – Graham Potter, former manager at Swansea City
So what makes James such an asset for the Red Devils? Firstly, despite his clear limitations as a top-level manager, the Welshman certainly fits into the playing style that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemingly wants to impose on his United side. Hitting teams on the break seems to be the Norwegian’s remit, and James’ skillset adds to that perfectly.
The Welsh winger is incredibly fast – he’s reportedly been clocked at a top speed of 36km/hr, which makes him faster than the likes of Theo Walcott and Leroy Sane and puts him in line with France’s rapid Kylian Mbappe. He’s also blessed with brilliant dribbling skills – as we saw in that match with Manchester City in last season’s FA Cup tie.
He’s not just a headless chicken who runs down blind alleys, though; James appears to have an excellent awareness of space in attacking areas that belie his lack of top-level experience, and that’s partly why he’s looked so dangerous for the Red Devils. Add in the fact that he presses heavily too, and all in all, he’s a horrible player for opposing defenders to face.
“I want to learn every day. I am always hungry for more. A lot of people say I’ve come a long way but it doesn’t matter whether it’s been six months or two years – I always want to be better.” – James on his hunger for improvement
James isn’t the finished article by any means – his passing could certainly be better, particularly when you consider that he only averages a total of 0.9 key passes per game, with an overall pass success rate of 77.5%, but his performances last season for Swansea – as well as some strong showings for the Welsh national side – suggest he’s capable of improving in that area.
So could United have the new Ryan Giggs on their hands? It’s hard to say but it’s definitely a possibility; James is only 21 years old and he’s already established himself as one of United’s key players, probably two or three seasons before it was expected of him. The flying winger could be a fixture at Old Trafford for the next decade – making a mockery of that £15m transfer fee.Published 18 Nov 2019, 20:08 IST