Who is Daniel James? Man Utd's £15m Welsh wizard following in Giggs' footsteps

Daniel James Ryan Giggs Swansea Man Utd
The 21-year-old has been snapped up by United after a wonderful breakout season with Swansea and an instant impact for the Wales national team

Manchester United have had a Welsh winger or two in the past.

From Mickey Thomas to Ryan Giggs, the path from the nation of St David to the Theatre of Dreams is a well-worn one, and in new signing Daniel James they have snapped up another player primed to leave a mark at Old Trafford.

Despite being born in the Yorkshire market town of Beverley, James chose the country of his father’s birth from an early age and has become one of the best Welsh prospects of his generation as a result.

His formative footballing years were spent with Hull City before Swansea City were able to snatch him for a compensation fee of just £72,000 at the age of just 16.

Hull lost him as a result of the rules put in place for the FA’s Elite Player Performance Plan, which allows players to move on to clubs with a higher category academy setup for a nominal fee without needing the agreement of the outfit they are leaving.

In 2014 James followed the lead of fellow Beverley native Harry Cardwell, who had left the Tigers for Reading one year prior, by signing up with Swansea’s youth ranks.

Hull academy manager Tony Pennock told the Hull Daily Mail at the time: “Everyone has got their own choices and decisions to make and I respect that. I wish Dan James all the best.

“We’re disappointed to lose them [Cardwell and James] but I don’t see that as recruitment, I see that as cherry-picking.

Daniel James

“It’s a shame because they’ve both been at the club since they were nine.”

At Swansea, James continued to progress quickly. Having already represented Wales at Under-16 level, he went on to pull on the national shirt at Under-17, Under-19, Under-20 and Under-21 grades as he made his way through the Swans’ system.

While he never made a Premier League appearance for the south Wales side, he was named as an 18-year-old substitute by caretaker boss Alan Curtis when Swansea played Oxford in the FA Cup in January 2016. And, while he didn’t feature on that occasion, he did make his senior bow in the same competition two years later, netting the final goal in an 8-1 thrashing of Notts County.

In between times he made a loan move to Shrewsbury Town to gain some first-team experience but having failed to initially break into the starting XI it was decided by all parties that James would return to Swansea to continue his development.

His big break came after the Swans’ relegation from the top flight in the summer of 2018, with Graham Potter choosing to offset the multiple departures from the squad with the promotion of youngsters such as James, Joe Rodon and Connor Roberts.

What followed was a breakout campaign for James, using the Championship spotlight to showcase his immense talent. His blistering pace and willingness to run at the defensive line had many opponents caught on their heels from the off, and his displays of overt confidence with the ball at his feet were a delight to behold for Swansea fans.

Ryan Giggs on Daniel James Manchester United

His performances at club level saw Ryan Giggs promote him to the Wales senior team and the United legend was blown away by his impact.

“He’s brought his club form to the international stage. I’m delighted,” Giggs said after James netted a goal against Slovakia in only his second appearance for his country. “His overall game was fantastic but to top it with a goal was great and he was just a threat all day.

“He will be with that pace but he’s got much more. He can go either side, he’s intelligent and he works hard. He’s a great lad and I’m delighted he got the winning goal because that’s what you want.

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“When you’ve got that raw pace you’re a threat at any level. He’s played up front as well, which will help him because that gives you an appreciation because if you’re playing those balls into a centre-forward you know exactly what to do.”

With five goals and 10 assists in 38 games last season and a burgeoning reputation for attacking with verve, James understandably caught the eye of many prominent clubs. And, while Leeds United showed significant interest, once Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United came on the scene there was never any doubt he would be heading for Old Trafford.

United may have paid out £15 million for a player with no top-flight experience and only one year of regular senior football under his belt, but if James fulfils his potential it could well turn out to be a masterstroke.