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Does James Wilson still have a future at Manchester United?

When James Wilson scored two goals on his Premier League debut against Hull City in the final game of the 2013/14 season, it was expected that Manchester United may have found their next academy product who would make the grade at first-team level. His goals did not come as a surprise to followers of United’s then reserves, as Wilson had been prolific at the lower level. At the beginning of that breakthrough season, ‘Willo’ was captaining the U18s.

By the end of it, caretaker manager Ryan Giggs had placed his faith in the 18-year old, starting him alongside fellow youngster Tom Lawrence after the former was given a place on the bench against Newcastle. The striker struggled for first-team minutes the next season under Louis van Gaal, largely playing for the reserves but continuing to be prolific. However, in search of first-team minutes, he was loaned out to Brighton and Hove Albion after a couple of appearances in the 2015/16 campaign.

He made 27 appearances for the then Championship side, scoring five goals in the process. However, a subsequent loan spell to Derby County was abruptly ended after he suffered a severe knee injury. Like a former United striker, Will Keane, Wilson has been unlucky with injuries during his time at the club, both whilst on loan and when he was playing at youth level. The combination of loans and injuries mean he has dropped considerably in the pecking order following the rapid rise of Marcus Rashford.

Rashford, Romelu Lukaku, and Anthony Martial are all above Wilson in Jose Mourinho’s thoughts as to who should be the starting striker for United. Given Mourinho rarely opts for two up front, Wilson was wise to seek another loan this season, joining Sheffield United in the January market. Wilson has been less unlucky with injuries but has generally struggled to get into a side which boasted Leon Clarke, who has scored 19 goals for the Blades this season.

Since his move in January, he has managed nine appearances with just the one goal. This suggests that what may have been his last chance at United is slowly falling from his grasp. Wilson will be 23 in December, and any chance to establish himself in the first-team is rapidly diminishing. He will be vying desperately to go on the Pre-season tour to the United States of America and try and prove himself to Mourinho, even if it means he is showcasing his talents for other potential suitors.

Wilson has played 20 times for United, scoring four goals in the process. These are not the kind of figures which would suggest he is in line to be blooded into the first team any time soon. However, in 34 appearances for the U23s, he has scored 15 goals and provided four assists, something which demonstrates the natural ability the Englishman clearly has. Though his United career has been very mixed, he only needs one excellent season elsewhere, be it on loan or permanently, to showcase just how good he can be.

The likelihood is that he will move on in summer, but it is probably best for the development of his career that he does so.

Written by Rob Potter

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