When Ryan Giggs became Manchester United’s caretaker manager at the end of the disastrous 2013-14 season, he allowed ITV cameras into his world to film him for a documentary that was to be entitled ‘The Life of Ryan’.
In the trailer for this documentary we see Giggs in an office with his trusty friends who made up his coaching team: Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.
In the clip, which last for the first minute, we are allowed a glimpse into the life of a football manager who is attempting to put together a team for an up-coming game. Giggs asks his coaching team for their advice about who to play and the subject comes around to a then 18 year-old youth product: James Wilson.
Nicky Butt, who had been, and still is, involved with United’s youth set-up recommends that Giggs plays Wilson as a striker instead of ‘in the hole’. The former United midfielder then goes on say Wilson was unbelievable in the six yard-box before adding: “He’s got the best standing spring you’ve ever seen in your life.” Extremely high praise from a former player and now coach.
Wilson was given his United debut on 6 May in a home game against Hull City. The Staffordshire-born striker burst onto the scene in the perfect way scoring two goals in a 3-1 victory for Giggs’ men.
The first was a sweetly struck effort from just outside the six-yard box that had too much pace on it for Eldin Jakupovic to stop. His second was a classic poacher’s goal as Wilson reacted quickest to a save from Jakupovic to slot the ball home from six yards to cap-off a magnificent night for the youngster.
Great things were expected after that evening and Wilson further enhanced his reputation and confirmed to the footballing world that he had reached his peak at reserve level, when he scored all four of his team’s goals in the Manchester Senior Cup final as United’s under-21s thrashed their City counterparts 4-1. The 2014-15 season, it was expected, would be a big year for the young striker.
Unfortunately, all did not go to plan. Wilson struggled to find the net and scored just two goals in 17 appearances in all competitions. Louis van Gaal did not fully trust the young Englishman and Wilson found himself loaned out to Brighton the following season after just two appearances at the start of the 2015-16 season.
Wilson played 25 times for Brighton during his stay on the south-coast with a fairly poor return of five goals. It appeared that the light was slowly going out on another promising career.
The appointment of Jose Mourinho and, more significantly, the emergence of Marcus Rashford and the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, left Wilson a long way down the pecking order at Old Trafford.
He was sent out on loan once more, this time to Derby County in August 2016 where he made four appearances (scoring no goals) before a serious knee injury meant that he had to return to Manchester to recover and recuperate. Wilson was subsequently ruled out of the entire 2015-16 season after an operation and the 21 year-old will be hoping to prove his worth in the summer pre-season tour before attempting to revive his career.
Wilson is not alone in this sad story of a promising footballer who has been unable to realise the obvious talent he has for the game. He is not even alone at Old Trafford, where a number of youth stars have failed to make the grade on a consistent basis.
Adnan Januzaj, Nick Powell and Federico Macheda are three names that spring to mind who have all been touted as stars of the future after promising starts. All three are not currently at Old Trafford with the former having an underwhelming season with Premier League strugglers Sunderland and the latter two leaving United in 2016 and 2014 respectively.
For all of the criticism levelled at them, the majority of young footballers have a tough ride in their journey to become a top-level footballer. An excess of money and fame are the two most commonly cited reasons when a promising player fails to fulfil his potential, but there are other factors that are as important. A young player is put under enormous pressure to perform consistently and this ultimately separates the wheat from the chaff when it comes to those that are serious about making it as a professional athlete.
Footballers are often portrayed as lazy individuals who are overpaid and there are strong arguments to back-up these claims. The amount of money paid to players is obscene and a player’s lifestyle is relatively easy compared to other lines of work, but there is a level of dedication and commitment required. A footballer must keep himself in peak physical and mental condition to perform week-in-week-out. Failure to do so will result in a barrage of criticism from all directions, some constructive and some deeply personal.
For a young player attempting to make it at a club the size of United, life is not always easy. No matter how good your debut was for the club, if you cannot maintain that same level you will be cast aside and left to attempt to make a name for yourself elsewhere.
Only the physically and mentally strong survive and football is a brutal business to attempt to make a career out of.
James Wilson is facing a challenge in his career at the age of 21. Does his future lie at Old Trafford or elsewhere?
For a player who showed enormous promise early on, Wilson may have to move away from his first professional club to seek to re-establish himself away from the intense scrutiny of both Manchester United and the Premier League to rediscover his game and, perhaps, to reignite his passion for the sport.