Daniel James: "To Play For This Club And To Play So Many Games...I'm Honoured."
On Sunday night, inside the famous Rhein Energie Stadion in Cologne, Manchester United winger Daniel James could make his 46th appearance of the season when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side come up against Sevilla in the semi-final stages of the Europa League.
It's an achievement even he never believed was possible in such a short space of time after arriving from Championship side Swansea last summer.
"From the start the aim was to try and play as much as possible," James told SPORTbible while speaking at the launch of Adidas' X Ghosted boot. "But with the quality of the players here, I thought maybe it would take me a season to really get to grips with the club and the Premier League.
"Coming from a Championship club straight into the Premier League was...I didn't think I would play so many games.
"To play for this club and to play so much, I'm honoured."
From the first minute of our interview to the last, you can really sense that James is still in awe about United's move to sign him.
Having played just half a season's worth of Championship football with Swansea after making his league debut in a 0-0 draw against Birmingham in August 2018, the 22-year-old became Solskjaer's first signing as Manchester United manager.
James recalls finding out about the club's interest before flying to Croatia for an international game with Wales, calling it a "crazy" moment.
"I didn't believe it at the time," he said. "I still didn't believe it until I turned up at Carrington to sign. I was just thinking 'this is surreal.' From the first moment I found out, I was like 'wow.' I had butterflies thinking 'is this actually going to happen?'
"To play for this club is a real honour for me."
Without any real top flight experience, James was thrown in at the deep end by a trusting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but the 22-year-old repaid his manager's faith with a competitive debut to remember against Chelsea.
Shortly after being brought on in the second half, James celebrated his first moments in front of a packed out Stretford End with a 81st minute goal. He wheeled away in front of the capacity crowd inside Old Trafford before dedicating the finish to his late father.
It was a moment that really kick-started his career in the famous red.
"After that Chelsea game, to start so many games was great for me as I needed to settle in straight away," he said. "The manager has trusted in me every single game, so I do thank him for that."
It was that trust and belief from his manager that ultimately helped the inexperienced winger to flourish. James started a total of 26 games in the Premier League this season, as well as a handful of ties in Europe after his opening day goal against Chelsea.
But even before his competitive bow, the positive signs were very much apparent during pre-season.
Solskjaer expressed his delight at James' overall work rate and attitude on the training ground after putting in a number of top quality performances on United's tour of Australia, Singapore and China.
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"Dan is ready to go. He's had a great pre-season and has fitted straight into the group, both as a player on the pitch and in the team, and as a person and a personality in the group," Solskjaer said in his post-match press conference after the club's win against AC Milan.
"He's been a joy to work with and I didn't give him the last penalty, I think he wanted it and that's always a good sign."
It's clear that the relationship between James and Solskjaer has been strong from day one.
"Since I've come in, he [Solskjaer] speaks to me daily about everything. He's a very good one-to-one manager with all his players. He keeps us all in the loop. It's obviously hard as a manager when people aren't playing as much but he speaks to everyone.
"And with him having played in my position as well, that is obviously something that is great. He just doesn't do stuff behind the scenes either - he's the person on the pitch giving you tips as well.
"We've got a really great bond with each other. "
With United now securing Champions League football after a third placed finish in the Premier League, James and his teammates will be aiming to put the finishing touches on a good season by lifting the Europa League this month.
Two players who have, and will no doubt continue, to play a huge part in their success are Mason Greenwood and Bruno Fernandes.
Greenwood has netted 18 goals in 49 appearances in all competitions for United this season, and the 18-year-old forward is someone who has impressed James massively.
"He plays football like it's a kick in the park. He's just so relaxed with everything he does really. He's unbelievable at finishing and you see it everyday in training.
"The guy isn't even trying and everything is top corner, bottom corner; with both feet. He hasn't got a weak foot and that doesn't come often. He's a rare person to see in football and he's got a very, very bright future."
Since his arrival into the first team from United's prestigious youth set-up, many have questioned whether Greenwood is right or left footed.
"He'd say both but I think he's left footed." James says. "But he's got the ability to do everything with his left that he does with his right, whether it's dribbling, shooting...any type of shot really.
"I know when he was in the U23's, he was taking free-kicks with his right and penalties with his left - or the other way round. You can't really tell but I think that comes with practice when he was younger.
"When I asked him, it was more about an injury he picked up as a kid, and then he just practiced with the other foot all the time and made both as good as each other. You don't see that much in football these days.
"You can count on one hand how many people can do that with both feet so, he's a rare person to have round the place."
Bruno Fernandes, meanwhile, has been indispensable since arriving from Sporting Lisbon at the start of the year. The midfielder has not only scored 11 goals in 21 appearances but United have improved dramatically as a team in that time.
"He's been unbelievable since coming in," says James.
"It usually takes time to settle but he's come in and fitted straight in as you see with his goals and assists, but it's not just that. On the training pitch. In the changing room. He talks a lot as well and tries to get people up for the game.
After a solid season at Old Trafford himself, James is certainly optimistic about his future at the club. The pacey winger is ready to make an impact again as United prepare to face off against Europe's elite.
"With us qualifying for the Champions League, it's great for the club. That's where we belong. On a personal note, it's just about kicking on from this year."
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Featured Image Credit: PA