Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants Man Utd to sell Daniel James for £25m | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
Manchester United would be fools not to try and cash in on Daniel James for a profit in the final days of the transfer window, with increasing exit rumours now coming amid suggestions that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to use money from selling James to help fund a deal for Jadon Sancho.
James represented the future and a fresh start when United agreed an initial £15m deal with Swansea last summer. His arrival was symbolic of a concerted effort from the club to implement a long-term strategy for player recruitment, the kind of which had been sorely lacking.
It was hoped that James, with his searing pace, could be developed by the club, schooled in the ‘United way’ and ultimately play a part in the return of the glory years.
Man Utd paid an initial £15m for James in 2019 | Trond Tandberg/Getty Images
That he had fewer than 40 professional games under his belt and hadn’t played at all during a loan spell at Shrewsbury was almost irrelevant because United thought they had seen something in him.
The theory was sound and even in reality it proved, initially to be a home-run swing. James scored three goals in his first four Premier League appearances. Sadly, that proved to be the extent of it.
With United severely short of attacking depth, James played far more games than anyone would have expected. And while he continued to chip in with a number of assists until Christmas, his performances became increasingly less effective as fatigue crept in.
Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, James, though no fault of his own, looked utterly spent and it became obvious that he lacked the technical quality to make an impact if his pace was nullified.
It was then telling that he started just one Premier League game during ‘Project Restart’ in June and July. It was the very first one against Tottenham and after that he was exclusively a substitute.
James lost his starting place during ‘Project Restart’ | Pool/Getty Images
James started the opening game of the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, but only because of Mason Greenwood’s non-involvement. That starting place this season will ultimately go to a new winger, whether it be primary target Jadon Sancho or someone else like Ousmane Dembele.
United also have the highly rated Anthony Elanga emerging from the youth ranks. The teenage Swede was named Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year for last season and is expected to start knocking on the door of the first-team over the coming months.
Leeds, who almost signed James ahead of United in January 2019, are interested in the 22-year-old Welshman once more. Despite United rebuffing a loan approach, ESPN now writes that Leeds are expected to return with an offer for a permanent transfer ahead of the deadline instead. That figure could reach £25m and Solskjaer is understandably said to want the club to take it.
It is explained that having worked with James for just over a year, Solskjaer and his coaching staff do not believe he will become an established United player. It seems a more than fair assessment and is by no means an admission of failure on the club’s part.
But the reluctance to sell comes from higher up the Old Trafford ladder, with the likes of Ed Woodward apparently concerned how it will look if James is sold so relatively soon after he arrived. Their worry is that it could give a negative impression on the club’s ability to develop players.
It seems a somewhat misguided view when selling James for a profit of 30%-40% represents shrewd business. The message would not be that United cannot develop players, but rather that they are on the pulse when it comes to understanding their players and the market.
By signing James for an initial £15m and selling him for up to £25m, United will not lose, they will only gain. It is a move that would more closely mimic the intelligent business that the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool do with players.
No one was mocking Liverpool when they gave up on Dominic Solanke by selling him to Bournemouth in 2019 because they were too busy applauding a deal that saw the club make a handsome profit on a player that wasn’t right for them. Liverpool could similarly end this transfer window by making profits on Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Grujic. Neither player will improve the squad, but the Anfield hierarchy understands that each still has a re-sale higher than they paid.
Liverpool sold Dominic Solanke for a huge profit after he failed to command a place | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images
Conversely, United seem too focused on irrelevant perception when there is an opportunity to make money on an unwanted player and ultimately strengthen the squad as a result by re-investing.
If £25m is on offer for James, they should be snapping off the hand presenting it. Instead, indecision and mis-placed concern shows once more where the club is still lagging behind its rivals.
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