When Manchester United signed Dan James for £15million last summer (BBC), few expected him to make an immediate impact.
How wrong they were, with the Wales international scoring on his debut and grabbing three goals in his first four outings.
It looked like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had signed an absolute gem. With pace to burn, a direct style reminiscent of Andrei Kanchelskis and a humdinger of a shot, James looked right at home at Old Trafford.
However, the 22-year-old’s form tailed off considerably soon after. While Mason Greenwood’s emergence has now condemned James to a bit-part role.
After a lackluster outing against LASK last week, James could struggle to start any more Europa League games this season. And that is before the possible arrival of Jadon Sancho this summer.
In short, the £15million man is fast becoming the fringe player he was tipped to be when he arrived. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
An important step back
Wingers are notoriously inconsistent and James is no different.
While the United star is one of the fastest players to pull on the shirt for years, he does not always use that trait effectively.
The problem for a player who thrives on beating an opponent is that, if things go wrong once ore twice, he can quickly lose confidence.
At his free-flowing best, James can beat practically any defender in the top flight. He also has a shot to trouble the world’s best ‘keepers. Alas, it has been a while since United fans saw that.
What James needs is to be taken out of the spotlight and given time to hone his skills on the training field. Some may tout a loan move – especially if Sancho arrives – but that could lead to the same problems.
A blistering start is pointless if it does not ultimately lead to more consistency.
Instead, James should remain at United and learn from Solskjaer. The Norwegian benefited from the delivery of some of the club’s finest ever wingers, so he knows how to get the best out of the youngster.
James was signed for the future but ended up – albeit briefly – being very much part of United’s present.
He has said himself that he did not expect to play so much in his debut campaign. Now he should step back, play when called upon, but work quietly on everything he needs to become a great United winger.