Dan James makes people do things they don’t want to do. By half-time of Manchester United’s win over Brighton, the Seagulls already had four bookings. For fans, James’ pace and directness make you sit up and, occasionally, release an accidental and mildly embarrassing noise in admiration. He’s a joy to watch and a nightmare to defend against.

The young Welshman celebrated his 22nd birthday on Sunday and though he did not score or even assist, he was utterly relentless. That’s one of his great qualities. That United fans and coaches have seen it already is a bit of a surprise. Few expected James to be a starting first-team player so quickly, as a report in The Athletic confirmed on Monday.

Dan James was relentless against former-manager Potter

In United’s 3-1 win, James was coming up against a team managed by Graham Potter, a young manager who gave him his debut at Swansea City last season. Potter was effusive in his praise for James and having seen his side lose, sat up slightly in his seat as he began to talk about the winger.

“The speed of the attacking players on the pitch for Manchester United; you mistime a challenge and it doesn’t look so good,” Potter told Sky Sports.

“James and Martial and Rashford, when they nick the ball away from you you can mistime it.”

James constantly does it. Two Brighton players saw how hard it is to defend against him when they dived in assuming they’d reach the ball first. They didn’t, of course. Yellow cards followed. What’s so exciting is that James has shown good decision-making, genuine technical ability and good character. This is not what we expected.

Potter: Dan James will continue improving

“I’m delighted for him. He’s a great lad and his sprinting ability is sensational. He can repeat it and he’s so brave,” Potter continued.

 

“He’ll get better and better with his final ball and execution in the final third. I think it’s a big step to go from Swansea to Manchester United but he’s coped well and I’m really pleased for him.”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Daniel James of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on November 10, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
(Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

The joy of football comes from watching players who excite and deliver. James is a true winger, fulfilling a role in United’s side that doesn’t exist in most elite teams around the world. He runs up and down the right flank, beats his defender and delivers for Rashford and Martial. And then he does it again.

Like Potter, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke with a smile when asked about Dan James in Sunday’s press conference.

Solskjaer: James has been doing it from the start

“A fantastic signing,” Solskjaer told the MEN. “He made an impact straight away. In his first training session, he ran back 50 yards, won the ball off Anthony [Martial] and then scored 10 seconds later.”

“He’s still the same kind of player. His work-rate hasn’t changed at all. He’s getting used to this level. He never seems fazed by anything.”

He won’t be a world-beater, but James will have the beating of most defenders in the league. He’s a fearsome sight and United need someone like that. When Mohamed Salah was the same age, he was at Basel. Roberto Firmino was at Hoffenheim and Virgil van Dijk was just joining Celtic from Groningen. This is not to say that James will reach their level, but it’s to emphasise that the performances he’s putting in are to be admired and praised.

Particularly impressive is the fact that James endured a small dip in form in September, after an electric August, but is now in good form again.

That’s a sign of a good player, and James is exactly that. A good player who is completely exhilarating to watch.

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