Dan James is on the verge of leaving Manchester United to sign a deal with Leeds, The Guardian report.

The move hardly comes as a surprise, although it does make the decision to start him against Wolves at the weekend slightly baffling. But £20 million is too good to turn down.

James is always a player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has believed in, after he became his first signing for the club in early 2019.

The Welsh winger would also become the first player signed by Solskjaer to be sold.

James was signed as a stop-gap, with a move for Jadon Sancho impossible in 2019 after United failed to qualify for the Champions League.

United hoped James would develop into a top star, and with three goals in his opening four games against Chelsea, Crystal Palace, and Southampton, it looked like the club may have found a gem.

(Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

James was never going to be able to sustain that scoring pace, but he went significantly backwards as the season went on, asked to do too much due to a lack of wide options at the club. His confidence seemed to be effected by his failure to get on the scoresheet.

Early on James’ ability to pick a pass looked bright too as he linked up well with Marcus Rashford. By the end of the season his final ball and passing ability had regressed.

A fighting second season

James progressed as a solid squad player in 2020/21 and chipped in with five goals in all competitions.

The problem really was a lack of game time, and although he managed to start two matches this season out of three, his chances were set to diminish.

James’ path to the first team was cleared by a combination of factors, Marcus Rashford’s injury, Jadon Sancho’s slow burn to build up his fitness, and an injury to promising talent Anthony Elanga, who can take his place in the squad.

A poor performance against Wolves summed James up. He posed no threat in possession, and with a player like Cristiano Ronaldo coming into the club, United simply need better.

 

Take the money

James has actually proved a bit of a lucky charm for Manchester United over the past year.

United have not lost a single match he has been involved in since the opening game of the season against Crystal Palace in September 2020 – excluding the penalty shootout loss to Villarreal.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer once described him as the ‘best defensive winger in the world’, and he certainly has a function in the squad, but United need more.

This summer and the last, Manchester United have struggled to sell players.

Now there is genuine interest a fringe player like James, it makes perfect sense to take the money and either use it to claw back some of the investment made already this summer, or put it towards one last signing.

Manchester United v Everton - Pre-season Friendly
(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

United are making progress

When James signed, United were bereft of wing options. Now the club is overloaded with them.

James’ departure now only speeds up the inevitable. He will leave with the best wishes of supporters, even if it is Leeds he ends up at.

The winger is a player who gave everything for United every time he was on the pitch, and while it often was not good enough for the level fans want, nobody can knock his effort, and there were a number of matches where it worked out pretty well.

In some ways, James’ exit is Solskjaer admitting defeat. The manager tried to make it work, and give James every chance.

But the winger served his purpose, and Manchester United in 2021 aspire to be fighting for titles, and not just fighting for a top four place like in 2019.

James’ exit will signify the progress made by United on and off the pitch.

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