The subtle yet growing influence of Wales boss Ryan Giggs on Man United’s transfer policy
The Old Trafford legend still has connections at his old clubby Ben Parsons
It’s easy to forget just how close Daniel James came to joining Leeds United last January.
The Welshman was poised to join Marcelo Bielsa’s side on loan from Swansea City for the remainder of the 2018/19 season after completing a medical, a deal that would have been made permanent had the Whites gained promotion.
Amazon Prime’s ‘Take Us Home: Leeds United' documentary gave us an unprecedented insight into the collapsed transfer with James even pictured holding up the jersey of his proposed new club.
But then Swans chairman Huw Jenkins, who left his role just two days later, pulled the plug on the deal in the final seconds, believing the move was not in the best interest of the club or the player.
James would have scarcely believed that 18 months on he would be an established member of Manchester United’s first-team squad.
The 22-year-old has made 35 appearances in his maiden season at Old Trafford, offering United a new outlet with destructive pace on the counter-attack.
However, his move from Swansea may never have materialised without the endorsement of his national boss. Ryan Giggs confirmed that he was asked his opinion about the flying winger after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was alerted by his potential in the Championship.
“Yeah, Ole asked me about him,” he said last August.
“I just told him that he’s a player with plenty of potential, obviously really quick. A great lad, someone who you want in the dressing room, great character."
James joined academy graduate Dylan Levitt as the second Welsh player at the club. Levitt, 19, has already been called up to Giggs’ senior squad and is being tipped for great things by those behind the scenes at the club.
And United’s Welsh contingent could be about to double in the summer transfer window as Solskjaer continues to shape his squad around promising British talent.
The Mirror reported that United are leading rivals Manchester City in the race to sign Swansea centre-back Joe Rodon.
Rodon has been labelled the ‘Welsh John Stones’ for his proficiency in possession, but his 6ft 4 frame makes him a more imposing presence than the City defender.
His two seasons in the Championship have proven he has outgrown Swansea and it is inevitable he will depart his boyhood club this summer. Chairman Trevor Birch has already suggested that some of the more valuable players may have to be moved on in order to balance the books in SA1.
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Giggs, who handed Rodon his Wales debut against Azerbaijan in September, recalls the youngster surprising him during a training session.
“It was the day after a game and we gave some players running drills, box to box,” he told The Athletic
He was running with someone fast and went past them, effortlessly. I thought, 'Oh, I hadn’t seen that'.
“It made me think a little bit of Gary Pallister. You don’t think of him as quick but when he got going at his peak, he was.”
The comparison between Rodon and a player who won four Premier League titles in five seasons at Old Trafford may be difficult for Solskjaer to ignore and the defender could follow in the footsteps of former team-mate James this summer.
WalesOnline has also learned that Schalke forward Rabbi Matondo is being lined up as a cut-price option if a deal for Dortmund's Jadon Sancho falls through.
Like Sancho, Matondo left Manchester City to seek regular game-time in the Bundesliga and has shone in Germany, establishing himself as a key member in the Schalke squad.
Matondo, who has raised in Cardiff where he began his youth career, has scored once in 19 league appearances to date and could operate anywhere across Solskjaer’s front three.
The youngster has made four appearances for Wales so far and would likely be given a glowing evaluation if Solskjaer again sought counsel from Giggs.
But acknowledging their most successful player’s wisdom and hand-picking the finest Welsh talent would not just benefit United.
Giggs knows that the national side could become more competitive as a result as he looks ahead to next summer’s delayed European Championships and qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar further on the horizon.
Gareth Bale’s influence on the side will diminish as he enters his thirties and Giggs has the foresight to plan ahead and nurture the next generation.
If Rodon or Matondo join James and Levitt at Old Trafford, they will soon become accustomed to the pressure of playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world, which puts them in good stead to deliver on the international stage.
Matondo is an unproven raw talent, but a move to the Premier League would allow Giggs to directly compare his output to two more of Wales’ right-sided options in David Brooks and Harry Wilson.
Rodon, meanwhile, has been earmarked as potential future captain of his country and he can learn from the leadership skills on display by United skipper Harry Maguire.
The success of James in his fledgling United career will have warranted some trust from Solskjaer in Giggs’ transfer appraisals and there is every chance the Norwegian could seek his former teammate’s input on more thriving Welsh talent this summer.