Would Daniel James be the preferred Welsh winger heading for Old Trafford?

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Daniel James is in demand

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ByBen Grounds
21/05/2019 at 11:14 | Updated 21/05/2019 at 14:10

Manchester United have been linked with both Daniel James and Gareth Bale, but which is the preferred Welsh winger no longer appears so obvious, writes Ben Grounds.

When Daniel James missed out on a move to Leeds United on the final day of the January transfer window, he would have had every reason to feel rather peeved.

Marcelo Bielsa's side had just gone three points clear at the top of the Championship, and looked well-set for a return to the Premier League for the first time in 15 years.


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But rather than dwell on his club's decision to walk away from a reported £10m deal, James knuckled down and got even better.

Daniel James scored Wales' only goal against Slovakia in March

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Fast forward six months and the Beverley-born star is set to become Manchester United's first summer signing with both clubs negotiating over a potential £15million fee, according to reports on Tuesday.

The Welshman, who has one year left on his current contract, scored four goals and provided seven assists for Swansea during the Championship season as Graham Potter guided his side to a 10th-place finish despite a major squad overhaul at the start of the campaign.

James shines amid Swans turmoil

No fewer than 16 senior pros departed the Liberty Stadium upon Swansea's relegation from the Premier League, but James was instrumental in helping them reach the FA Cup quarter-finals and earn a top-half finish.

After a man-of-the-match display against Stoke last month, Potter said: "If you look at the performance, if you are being honest it's above Championship level.

Daniel James lit up the Championship for Swansea during the 2018/19 campaign

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"That was as good an individual performance as I have ever witnessed when you consider Stoke are a good team with good players who are well organised and do not concede many goals.

"I have run out of superlatives to be honest. It was his fourth game in 11 days. His ability to run, his desire to run, his courage and then his quality - we are just lucky to witness it."

Potter earned his step up to the top flight this week when he replaced Chris Hughton as Brighton manager - and it would now seem inevitable that James will follow suit in the coming weeks, if not days.

Does Bale provide a Sanchez-sized problem?

James' upward trajectory comes at a time when Wales' favourite son has never been in such need of warm embrace.

As the full-time whistle blew on Real Madrid's hugely forgettable season - culminating in a 2-0 home defeat to Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu - Gareth Bale stopped to shake hands with a member of the visitors' backroom staff before heading sharply down the tunnel.

Gareth Bale was an unused substitute for Real Madrid against Real Betis

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Madrid had just finished the La Liga season with 68 points - their fewest since the 2001/02 season - and the discord between player and supporters who have jeered him this season was palpable.

Zinedine Zidane did little to play down the winger's unhappiness in the Spanish capital by accepting that he does not feature in his plans - placing United on red alert.

But with Bale earning a hefty £600,000 a week before tax, it is unlikely that United would offer him an escape route unless they manage to offload the similarly well-remunerated Alexis Sanchez.

The Warm-Up: Who has the cash to afford Bale?

Despite his undoubted qualities, there is then the issue of his fitness, with the player missing 136 days of the 2017/18 season and another 73 this campaign.

Could 2019 Bale cope with Premier League?

With United preparing to juggle a potentially lengthy and arduous Europa League campaign alongside domestic commitments, it is questionable whether Bale has the durability to last a 50 or 60-game season.

The former Tottenham winger's time in Spain can only be seen as a success when his four Champions Leagues, La Liga title and Copa Del Rey winners' medal are taken into consideration, but it may well be that in selling Sanchez, United inherit the same problems in signing Bale.

Turning 30 in July, the player will still feel he has plenty to offer, and while many have viewed Zidane's decision to not use him against Betis as a harsh way to treat someone who has achieved so much for the club, it may just be that Bale himself is refusing to call time on his Madrid career.

Should that be the case, United cannot dither in the transfer market - and while Bale's productivity even when fit suggests he is on the decline, James is heading in the opposite direction.

James 'on a motorbike' but is Bale going backwards?

The 21-year-old scored his first international goal in Wales' Euro 2020 qualifier against Slovakia in March, and he received plaudits throughout the campaign from opposition managers.

Speaking after Swansea's 4-3 win over Rotherham last month, Millers boss Paul Warne said: "The best players at the best clubs are the ones who cause you problems and he is definitely up there.

Gareth Bale has been linked with a move away from Madrid

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"He will go on to have a great career, no doubt. I think he is one of the top two players in the league - my other is the Aston Villa captain (Jack Grealish). Those two win games on their own.

He (James) absolutely annihilated us at our place - he was unplayable. I knew we had to curtail James' pace which is a joke, it's like he's on a motorbike.

Warne was not alone in highlighting the winger's electric speed, which might well have been on show in a different white shirt during the second half of last season.

Swansea had agreed to sell James to Leeds on the final day of the January transfer window, only to pull the plug on the switch at the eleventh hour, deeming the £10m fee to be below his true valuation.

James was all set to join Leeds in January for £10million

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Despite being disappointed at missing out on his move to Elland Road, Leeds' subsequent failure to gain promotion and his continued development means things may have worked out better for all parties.

James key to a fresh United approach?

Manchester United's need to revitalise their squad in the attacking department means that James has emerged as a surprise summer target, with reports claiming personal terms have now been agreed.

Ryan Giggs has once more named him as part of his Wales squad due in Portugal for a warm-weather training camp ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Croatia and Hungary next month.

Ryan Giggs will no doubt advise James over a move to Manchester United

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The manner in which United came off the rails following the permanent appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in March brought the spotlight back on the current playing staff.

Despite signing a new contract in January, Anthony Martial has been linked with a move away this summer, while United would ideally like to offload Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian, Eric Bailly and Sanchez - although the Chilean's £500,000-a-week wages are proving a major obstacle.

While Ander Herrera has confirmed he is leaving United, the futures of David de Gea and Juan Mata remain uncertain. With Antonio Valencia also leaving this summer, it means Solskjaer will have a new-look squad when the 2019/20 campaign gets underway.

Can Bale and James work together?

James has emerged as the first piece in Solskjaer's re-jigged squad, and Bale could yet opt to honour the remaining three years of his contract at the Bernabeu.

But news of United's interest in the Swansea man, coupled with Giggs' undoubted influence as Wales manager and United legend, means that the prospect of Bale acting as a mentor at both club and country level is a natural option.

The prospect of James and Bale playing for United would excite some fans

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Zidane's quotes suggest Madrid are desperate to get Bale off their books ahead of a move for Chelsea's Eden Hazard - part of a new-look attack involving Luka Jovic, who is close to completing a £52.4m from Eintracht Frankfurt.

Club president Florentino Perez, who made Bale the world's most expensive player in 2013, would ideally like to recoup a sizeable chunk of the £85m paid for him six years ago.

Comparisons between the pair are hard to ignore, and it may just be that after such a torrid season in Madrid, Bale is not prepared to take on a dual role of cradling James through the transition from infancy to superstardom whilst simultaneously getting his own career back on track.

A move for Bale could represent the marquee signing that provides a statement of intent to United's top six rivals, but the signing of James could prove the shrewdest piece of business this summer.


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