James Wilson is a player who now provides a conundrum for Manchester United. He’s undoubtedly one of the best finishers to come out of United’s academy in recent years and he should have been destined to make his way into the first team, but to this date, he is still yet to force his way into Jose Mourinho’s plans.
Wilson really began to make waves at United in the 2013/14 season, where he made his first team debut, but only after appearing for the U18’s, U19’s and U21’s! In just 10 appearances for the Under 18’s that season he managed to score nine goals, he also made six appearances for the U19’s where he found the back of the net five times. It was evident that he was too good for this level and quickly made the step up to Warren Joyce’s U21 side where he scored eight goals in 13 appearances. Whilst there was turmoil in the first team, with David Moyes’ disastrous reign coming to an end, Ryan Giggs was given a chance in the Old Trafford hot seat. In what would prove to Giggs’ final home game in charge of the Reds he shocked the world by handing first team debuts to James Wilson, and Tom Lawrence who is no longer at the club. Wilson carried his impressive goal scoring form over to the first team, scoring a brace against Hull, as he looked to make an impact that would allow him to stake a claim for a permanent first team spot next season.
Louis van Gaal came in as manager and it looked promising for James Wilson, Van Gaal was playing a system with two strikers, and with him shipping out Danny Welbeck to Arsenal and Javier Hernandez to Real Madrid it left Wilson as one of only three strikers at the club, along with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie… or that would’ve been the case had Radamel Falcao not signed for the club on transfer deadline day. He found himself as fourth choice striker at the club, and when Van Gaal switched to a 4-3-3 formation he found his chances limited. He made 17 first team appearances, but only four of them came from the start, this led to Wilson being frequently involved with the U21’s, where he again impressed scoring eight in 12 appearances.
The following season Wilson only made one first team start, which came in the Capital One Cup against Middlesbrough, but he was subbed at half time and then sent out on loan to Brighton. His time out on loan wasn’t disastrous, but he didn’t exactly set the world alight either, struggling to cement a place in the team, and only scoring five goals for the Seasiders in 27 appearances. However, whilst he was out on loan United had an injury crisis up front, with Will Keane, Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial all picking up knocks at the same time, this led United to turn to Marcus Rashford to fill the void up front and he had a similar start to Wilson’s career, scoring twice on his debut. He then continued this good run of form, whilst Wilson continued to struggle in the Championship.
Upon his return to the club this summer Wilson found himself in a tricky situation, he had fallen further down the pecking order at the club due to Rashford’s emergence and the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimović. Rashford had also taken his squad number 19, which was leaving his Old Trafford career in limbo. Jose Mourinho decided to send him out on loan to Derby County, however, he made just four appearances for the Rams before injuring his knee and being sent back to United this week
Now back at Old Trafford Wilson must look to recover from his injury and re-build his career, which may sound bizarre for someone who’s just 20 years old. It looks unlikely that he will be able to force Ibrahimović or Rashford out of the squad, so a return to Warren Joyce’s U23 side could do him the world of good to build up his fitness and confidence, before potentially being sent back out on loan again when fully fit. Whether he has a United future is still up in the air, but he’s still young and Ibrahimović won’t be around at the club for a long time, so perhaps Wilson could look to take his place when he leaves within the next two years. He certainly has the talent and potential to do so.