Two years ago Daniel James was considering whether he had a future in football. One year ago he wanted to join Yeovil Town on loan.
Now he is hoping to stay at Manchester United for the rest of his career. Things in football move quickly – as does James.
The Wales winger had only made 28 league starts for Swansea City when United paid £15m to bring him to Old Trafford this summer.
The speedy 21-year-old has had a great start to life in the Premier League, and scored three goals in his first four top-flight games.
He has spoken to BBC Radio 5 Live about a rise that has caught even himself by surprise. “I still don’t believe I’m a Manchester United player,” he admitted.
‘I thought is football really for me?’
James was no wonderkid bursting on to the scene at an early age – and did not make a first-team debut until the age of 20.
He had hoped for his breakthrough before that when he joined Shrewsbury in June 2017. But he failed to get in a single matchday squad and the then League One side cancelled his loan at the end of August.
“I came back and thought: ‘Is football really for me? Can I make it?'” said James. And those doubts continued at the start of the next season.
“I played my first game. I came on against Birmingham. It wasn’t my best game,” he added. “I said to the manager [Graham Potter] would I be able to go on loan to Yeovil, who were League Two at the time?
“I said I feel I need to go out and get experience and he said: ‘No, I think you’ve got a chance here.’
“If someone told me I’d be at Manchester United a year later I’d tell them to shut up. Everything has happened so quickly.”
Potter was good to his word and James went on to play 33 Championship games for the Swans, scoring five times and breaking into the senior Wales team – for whom he has scored twice in six caps.
His goal in an FA Cup game against Brentford, where he showed blistering pace to run 70 yards before scoring, was one of the goals of the season.
‘I want to be at the club my whole career’
United were so impressed that they signed him – and he has been a key part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, playing in nine out of 10 games and scoring three goals.
“I wanted to play as many games as I could but didn’t think it would happen so quickly,” said James.
“I still don’t believe I’m a Manchester United player, it’s the stuff you dream of. Even though I’m in the changing room and I know I am, you still have to pinch yourself every night that you can say you’re a Manchester United player.
“To play here is an honour that I’ll grasp every game. I’ve started better than I thought I would.”
He says he would sign a 15-year contract at United if he could. “This club is amazing. Coming out at the Theatre of Dreams is unbelievable,” he added.
“I’ll always love it and never get used to the sound of the fans. I want to be at the club my whole career.
“When I see scarves or shirts, I think: ‘Why have they got my name on? They could have Pogba or Rashford or Lingard.’
“When people ask for pictures, I’ll think: ‘You don’t want one of me, you want one with them.'”
On his footballing role model…
James says he tried to learn from watching Eden Hazard when the Belgium winger was at Chelsea as he learned how to supplement his pace.
“The way Hazard was at Chelsea – his movement in behind, when to go and when to stay – he’s so quick, but the way he stops people and goes, and little one-twos, getting shots off quickly is something he’s done his whole career.
“Getting in the box for tap-ins is something I need to improve on. When Hazard does a one-two you can’t get anywhere near him.
“When I was younger, people said to me you won’t always be able to rely on speed. I used to just kick it past players and run – but nowadays that won’t happen, especially when people bank up on me.”