There are a few similarities between how both the wingers kick-started their time at Manchester United.

Daniel James’ first season at Manchester United didn’t exactly go to plan as he must have envisioned. Joining the English heavyweights from Swansea City last summer, he initially made a cracking start by scoring on his Premier League debut against Chelsea FC and followed that up with strikes against Crystal Palace and Southampton.

Since then, the Welshman has struggled to convince whenever he has taken the field. Daniel James, 22, though is still very young and isn’t the first exciting young winger to fail at making an instant impact on joining the Red Devils.

However, one needs to keep in mind that last term was just his second full season in professional football, since making his debut for Swansea City in February 2018. Additionally, it was his first season in the Premier League and although he has been largely ineffective on the pitch, it would be unfair to expect him to settle in right away and put in stirling performances every gameweek.

Similarly, Wilfried Zaha was another wide forward who moved to Manchester United quite early on in his professional career as a highly promising young talent. Zaha was the last signing sanctioned by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson but never got a chance to train under him due to the gaffer’s retirement at the end of the 2012-13 campaign.  

Following a bright pre-season, where the youngster performed well, he was expected to play a bigger role under then-boss David Moyes but was curiously never given sufficient amount of opportunities to showcase his ability. Even with key players injured, the attacker was restricted to only a handful of appearances from the bench, before being shipped back on loan to the Eagles, completing a permanent switch later in 2015.

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There are many suggestions as to why Zaha’s time at Manchester United couldn’t prove to be successful. One school of thought is that the move might have come too early in his career but it is still very odd that Moyes didn’t give him a shot at all, especially given their attacking problems that year.

On the other hand, game-time hasn’t necessarily been an issue in James’ case. Whilst Zaha was never given regular minutes on the field, James was thrown in straightway at the deep end. To be fair, the plan must have been to slowly bring James up to speed to life at the highest level but that wasn’t possible due to the dearth of attacking options at United in the first-half of the previous season.

Solskjaer’s usage of him on the right flank too hasn’t done him any favours. Boasting electric pace, Daniel James looks far more comfortable on the left-hand-side than on the right-wing where he appears restricted. This was evident in Wales’ international friendly against Finland, where James assisted the only goal and bagged the Man of the Match award, all playing from the left.

Coming back to Zaha, there were also question marks surrounding his attitude and commitment in training. Furthermore, there were rumours of Zaha allegedly being in a relationship with David Moyes’ daughter, which supposedly hampered his chances of playing, claims that have been vehemently denied by the forward.

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In any case, Zaha has improved leaps and bounds after his ill-fated time with the 13-time Premier League champions, establishing himself as a talismanic figure for Crystal Palace. So whatever might be the cause behind his forgettable spell at the club, Zaha has gone on to become a top player, proved his mettle, and has come back to haunt his former employers.

While James’ professionalism and work ethic has never been in question, rather are the qualities he receives praise for, he too has had to deal with a few off-field concerns of his own. Just weeks before the 22-year-old secured his dream move to Manchester United, he faced a personal tragedy as his father passed away. Dealing with such a huge loss in addition to the myriad of other colossal changes in his life would certainly have been challenging for the young lad, to say the least.

Not only has Daniel James made a massive jump in terms of competing in a league of a much higher quality but he also now represents a club of the stature of Man United, where his performances are constantly under scrutiny. Now, he has been linked with a move to Leeds United, a club he so nearly joined in January 2019. It is clear that Marcelo Bielsa is a fan of the youngster’s abilities and that says a great deal of the talent that the lad possesses.

Though, James is still unrefined and raw and doesn’t have the close control whilst dribbling that someone like Zaha possesses, he is still a promising talent and could be a very useful weapon depending upon the match situation, system, and opponent. There are areas of James’ play that need to be worked on like his game awareness and decision-making in the final third, which should improve with time and proper coaching.

Man United must be patient with his development, as, at the very least, the Welshman would be a superb option to have off the bench, given the nature of his skillset. Selling him to their arch-rivals after just one season wouldn’t be very prudent on Manchester United’s part and he could end up flourishing away from the Red Devils and quite possibly hurt them in the future as Wilfried Zaha did.

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