James Wilson’s Old Trafford future is in doubt after the 20-year-old was left out of Jose Mourinho’s 25-man squad for the club’s tour of China this week. Wilson – who started up top in the friendly victory over Wigan Athletic at the weekend – is one of three players who appeared against the Championship side on Saturday who have been omitted from the Reds trip to the Far East along with defenders Tyler Blackett and Guillermo Varela.
The youngster made just two appearances under Louis van Gaal last term, he came on late in the 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Arsenal in October before starting United’s fourth-round Capital One Cup tie against Middlesbrough. Wilson was hauled off at half-time as the Reds crashed out on penalties. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Brighton and Hove Albion, where he netted just five times in 27 appearances as the Championship side narrowly missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference and were then beaten by Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-finals of the play-offs despite finishing a hefty 15 points above the Owls.
It didn’t take long for the rumours to start circulating around Wilson’s future as The Sun claimed that Fulham are interested in taking the youngster on loan at Craven Cottage whilst The Daily Mail suggested the forward has attracted interest from West Bromwich Albion and newly promoted Hull City.
Wilson rose to fame at the back-end of the 2013/14 campaign. Languishing down in seventh place, United welcomed Hull to Old Trafford under the interim management of Ryan Giggs following David Moyes’ inevitable sacking just weeks previous. The then 18-year-old scored his first and second goals in the famous red jersey of Manchester United. He figured more in Louis van Gaal’s first season in charge, appearing 17 times in all competitions however the majority of those came from the bench where he netted just two goals, one each in the 2-0 and 3-0 wins over Queens Park Rangers and Cambridge United respectively.
The emergence of 18-year-old Marcus Rashford has really hit Wilson hard. Heading into the 2015/16 campaign, Wilson was United’s third choice striker behind club captain Wayne Rooney and the relatively unknown (at the time) Anthony Martial. Rashford burst onto the scene with a brace against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League before all but ending Arsenal’s title aspirations with a double in a 3-2 win at Old Trafford just days later. One of Mourinho’s first key decisions as Manchester United manager was to award Rashford a new bumper four-year contract keeping him at the club until at least 2020.
New signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic is absent from the tour to China following extended leave from the European Championships earlier this summer as is Anthony Martial whose French side made the Final. So United head to the Far East with three recognised strikers but when you factor in that two of the three (Rooney and Rashford) won’t feature in the games it leaves just Will Keane as Mourinho’s sole striker option. One can only imagine what Wilson must be thinking given the lack of out-and-out strikers on tour.
With Ibrahimovic only signing on a one-year deal and with Rooney’s future constantly being talked about there could yet be a place for Wilson at Old Trafford. A loan spell could do him some good, especially if it’s a move to a fellow Premier League club. He could earn his stripes and return to the Theatre of Dreams with some much-needed experience and confidence.