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James signings marks dramatic shift
The imminent signing of Daniel James marks a shift in Manchester United’s transfer strategy – and has Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s fingerprints all over it.
The Wales winger was undergoing a medical at Carrington on Wednesday ahead of the formal announcement of his move from Swansea next week.
The fee is expected to rise to £22m with add-ons.
It is the first tangible evidence of a dramatic about-turn in United’s recruitment strategy – instigated by Solskjaer before he was even appointed permanent manager in March.
The Norwegian had already impressed executive vice chairman Ed Woodward with his vision of United’s future when still caretaker.
In the absence of a technical director or manager, Woodward sought Solskjaer’s counsel over summer planning, even when Mauricio Pochettino was still favourite to be appointed Jose Mourinho’s permanent successor.
And it was those talks – as well as United’s outstanding form in the first three months of his reign – that convinced the club’s hierarchy that he was the man to revive Old Trafford’s fortunes.
Solskjaer told Woodward the club needed to be better at spotting the next generation of stars – but ones that could also make an immediate impact on the squad.
Rather than going down the route of paying huge sums for readymade recruits – he wanted to United to develop their own stars, be it through the academy or savvy spending.
Given Woodward’s admiration of Pochettino – who has done precisely that at Tottenham – Solskjaer’s words will have struck a chord.
United’s transfer record has been shambolic since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement – and the manner in which they squandered the talent of his final signing, Wilfried Zaha, has proved a very costly error.
The signing of James is right out of Ferguson’s playbook – a home-grown, flying winger with ample talent to nurture.
The same could be said of Zaha when he arrived at Old Trafford from Crystal Palace, only to get caught up in the churn of players at United over the past six years.
Solskjaer has already mined United’s academy – giving opportunities to James Garner, Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes.
Scott McTominay will also be given the opportunity to establish himself as part of United first choice midfield next season.
But Solskjaer won’t stop there. He has enlisted scouts to watch a wide range of emerging talent from the more established in Jadon Sancho, James Maddison, Declan Rice and Aaron Wan Bissaka – to the lesser known Sean Longstaff and Nathan Collins.
Solskjaer reluctantly accepts Sancho may be out of reach in his first transfer window – likewise Rice.
Interest in Maddison remains tentative at this point, while they would be reluctant to go above £50m to sign Wan-Bissaka.
No official bid has been made for Longstaff yet, but their pursuit of the Newcastle midfielder remains ongoing.
While Solskjaer’s summer business is not expected to be limited to emerging British talent, he is addressing an area he believes United have overlooked in recent times when they’ve become focused on marquee signings, who have underperformed.
He wants to bring in as many as five new additions as part of his squad overhaul – and it looks increasingly likely that James will be followed by more Brits.
Interest in Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix are evidence of his intention to still pursue the best talent abroad – while Christian Eriksen’s potential availability will also put United on alert.
But it is his first signing in James that could offer the most significant pointer to Solskjaer’s reign and what direction he plans to take United in.