Daniel James is a man in a hurry, and not just when accelerating down the flanks to launch attacks at blistering speed.
The youngster made extraordinary progress in 2018/19 with Swansea City, capped by scoring on his full international debut for Wales. Coach Ryan Giggs knows a thing or two about wing-play for both Manchester United and the country he now manages and he admits James is probably the fastest player he has ever worked with.
It has been a whirlwind spell for the exciting wide man, who had attended South Hunsley High School in Melton and joined Hull City as a nine-year-old. He made his Reserves debut for the Tigers, aged 16, after helping Wales Schoolboys win the coveted Victory Shield.
Swansea moved in for the teenager in 2014 and he soon became a key part of their youth team and development squad. As long ago as October 2016, he was named on the bench for a Premier League game against Stoke City but he did not make his league debut until August 2018.
Before then, he had joined Shrewsbury Town on loan. “It didn’t really work out,” he admitted. “I didn’t play and was quite down on myself.” A spell at Yeovil Town was also discussed before he was handed an opportunity by boss Graham Potter, who has since moved to Brighton & Hove Albion.
And that is when things started to happen quickly for James. Growing in confidence after being trusted with a regular place, he dazzled in the Championship, looking most effective on the left when cutting inside on his favoured right foot. Leeds United were impressed and looked to have wrapped up a deal in January, only for it to collapse on the final day of the window, much to coach Marcelo Bielsa’s chagrin.
He showed Leeds what they were missing when scoring a solo goal in the Emirates FA Cup against Brentford in the following month, a strike that became something of a social media sensation. Showing extraordinary pace in a run exceeding 80 yards to outstrip a number of Bees defenders, it was one of the most eye-catching goals of the entire season.
It meant Manchester City knew all about him when they travelled to the Liberty Stadium in the sixth round. The hosts went 2-0 ahead with James causing problems with his speed, only for the Blues to turn things around late on to claim a controversial 3-2 victory, en route to lifting the trophy. “James is incredibly fast,” commented City boss Pep Guardiola. “So it’s not easy. We knew that as we spoke about it beforehand.”
The good form continued for the winger as he developed more of an end product, in terms of goals and assists – ending with five and 10 respectively for the domestic campaign. A dream moment came with a fifth-minute effort for Wales against Slovakia that was enough to secure a precious three points in his country’s European Championship campaign.
If that showed he could truly handle the big stage, there is undoubtedly much more to come from a player who made rapid strides in one season of football. Interestingly, he managed a record of three goals and two assists from five outings as an attacking central midfielder with Swansea, so he is also versatile when it comes to his position.
United have a tradition of providing a platform for speedy wingers to express themselves and become firm fans’ favourites. There is now a new, bigger stage for James to parade his talents and he started off on the front foot by scoring seven minutes after coming off the bench on his competitive debut against Chelsea in the Premier League opener.