Championship

One that got away: Leeds United and Dan James

This article forms part of our The Ones That Got Away feature series, which is where Football Transfer Tavern take a look back at players linked with moves in the past, and see how they would have made an impact had they signed for the interested side.

In January 2019, Leeds United were strong contenders for automatic promotion in the Championship.

Under Marcelo Bielsa, they had done extremely well and going into the new year they were top of the league and six points clear of third-placed West Brom (via BBC Sport).

So, they would have gone into the January transfer window knowing that one or two quality additions could be the difference between success and failure, and they identified Swansea City winger Daniel James as a key target.

The Welshman had just made his breakthrough for the Swans but had been impressive, particularly in a five-match period just before Christmas in which he scored once and provided four assists (via Transfermarkt).

Leeds went all out to sign him, and after chasing the player for most of January they finally agreed a deal to bring him in on deadline day (via Yorkshire Evening Post).

However, there was heartbreak at the very last for officials of the West Yorkshire club as Swansea astonishingly pulled the plug on the deal with barely an hour of the transfer window left (via Telegraph).

It was a quite remarkable turn of events. James was so close to joining Leeds, he had completed his medical and he was even pictured holding up the shirt inside Elland Road on a recent Amazon Prime documentary about the club (via talkSPORT).

Ultimately the Whites ended up missing out on promotion to the Premier League, finishing in third place and losing out in the play-off semi-finals against Derby County (via BBC Sport). While it’s not an exact science, perhaps they feel that had they had James in their side, their slide from being top at Christmas wouldn’t have happened.

It may be right, too. Indeed, the Welshman scored two goals and provided five assists in the final 15 games of the season for a mid-table Swansea side (via Transfermarkt). To put that into context, that is much better than the three-goal involvements Leeds’ left-winger Jack Harrison managed in the same period (via Transfermarkt), and he was playing in a better side at the time.

This season alone – with Leeds’ finishing questioned by pundits such as Noel Whelan (speaking to the BBC via Football League World) – James’ 1.8 shots per game (WhoScored) carry more of an attacking threat than Harrison’s 1.5. Granted, James is playing with better players but it’s not as it the Red Devils are pulling up any trees in the Premier League.

James ended up signing for Leeds’ bitter rivals Manchester United for £15 million in the summer, and he has already made an impression at Old Trafford with three goals in his first eight Premier League appearances (via Transfermarkt). Recently praised for his performance against Liverpool in that he won the Man of the Match Award, the fact he never joined up with the Whites is looking even more galling on their behalf.

Whites fans must now be looking at James performing so well for Manchester United, and also the Welsh national team, and wonder what might have been had his move to Elland Road not fallen through.

Leeds fans, do you think you would have been promoted to the Premier League in the 2018/19 season had you signed Dan James? Let us know in the comments below…

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