Two-and-a-half years after his move to Elland Road broke down in the most dramatic fashion, Daniel James has finally joined Marcelo Bielsa in Yorkshire.
But rather than arrive at the Whites as an exciting prospect from Swansea City, James joins Leeds in need of a kickstart after a frustrating stint at Manchester United.
Six months on from his failed Leeds move that left James throwing his phone in fury, the 24-year-old sealed a move to Old Trafford that he would never have anticipated in his wildest dreams, putting pen to paper on a five-year deal after the Red Devils splashed out £15million on the winger.
Daniel James is in need of a kickstart to his career after stagnating at Manchester United
Yet James showed no sign of being overawed by his new environment. In fact, the Welshman made a phenomenal start to life at United, bagging three goals in his opening four league games with his pace, energy and directness wreaking havoc on top-flight opposition.
It was a sensational introduction to the United masses, with the more over excitable section of the fanbase quietly murmuring comparisons between the Welshman and club legend Ryan Giggs.
‘I think he’s an example for everyone,’ United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gushed after his goal against Southampton in August 2019.
The 24-year-old joined the club for £15million in 2019 and made a flying start to life at United
He scored three goals in his first four league games, with fans gushing over his talent
‘He’s our top scorer, and that comes from his personality, his habits. He’s humble, he works hard and he knows he can improve.
‘He knows he could have scored a few more [against Southampton] and we’ll work with him to get his quality even higher. Then we’ll have a top, top player.’
Those words would have been ringing in James’s ears as three goals in four games turned into three goals in 32 appearances.
His next strike for United came against LASK in the Europa League six months after his goal at St Mary’s Stadium. In the league, his goal against his new club, Leeds, ended a 16-month wait for a goal in the Premier League, scored in December 2020.
However, the Welshman endured a barren run of form and his game time was affected
James did not score again until March 2020 and he was unable to make a positive impact
DAN JAMES AT UNITED
Minutes played: 4,654
‘As a player, I give a lot more than goals,’ James insisted after getting back on the scoresheet against LASK, ‘I try to create them and work hard for the team, but [against LASK] was about getting off the mark and now I can capitalise to get more now.’
Despite James’s protestations otherwise, it was clear to see that the pace, urgency and directness that had delighted United fans became a distant memory, with James often appearing trigger-shy when in promising positions, while his final ball would frustrate.
That was reflected by Solskjaer’s team selections, with James starting just 11 league games last season.
So often an explanation for a dip in form is demanded, but in the case of James there can be no accusation of a lack of effort or professionalism on the Welshman’s part. Rather, it appears to be a case of too much, too soon for the 24-year-old.
As a result, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer afforded James little game time during 2019-20 at United
On reflection, it has appeared too much, too soon for the former Swansea City winger
The winger may no longer be young in footballing terms, but his inexperience at the top level is a factor that has played a huge part in his struggles at United.
United team-mate Marcus Rashford may only be 11 days older than James, but boasts 121 more senior appearances than his fellow attacker.
More pertinently, the gulf in quality between the second tier and the top level of the Premier League is a huge step for any player, even before considering the difference in demands placed on a player at United compared to the inferior expectations of clubs like Swansea.
Marcelo Bielsa is the perfect man to provide James a footballing education at Leeds United
Solskjaer has been a huge advocate of giving players time, but United’s transfer activities this summer painted a bleak picture for James’s first-team chances.
Although he started during the 1-0 win at Wolves on Sunday, the arrivals of Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo pushed James further down the pecking order. James does not have time on his side and there was an understanding from both player and club that regular first-team football is required for him.
And so Leeds have returned to the fore for James. In truth, this was the step that was skipped by James in going from Swansea to United, although that was completely out of his hands.
Leeds appear the perfect fit for James. The 24-year-old has demonstrated that he is better suited to hard-running, pacy teams, having performed well for Wales at the Euros this summer.
The 24-year-old’s traits appear to make him a perfect fit for the hard-running Leeds side
A reset at Elland Road seems to be the perfect tonic for James after his United disappointment
Moreover, playing for Bielsa is a footballing education that James will benefit hugely from.
Players tend to arrive at Old Trafford ready-made for Solskjaer, whereas the uncompromising Argentine will remould James, utilising the incredible traits that convinced United to sign him from Swansea two years ago.
On paper, James has all the tools to thrive at Leeds under Bielsa. He will, though, have to win over fans at Elland Road. Leeds supporters were heard chanting: ‘You’re too s*** to play for Leeds’ during their 5-1 loss at Old Trafford.
Supporters can quickly come round with a string of good performances. For James, Leeds is the perfect tonic to get his career back on track.