It is the final day of the 2019 January transfer window and silence has fallen on Leeds.
There is a hushed tone across the city as the night deepens, the sky a haunting jet black. Inside the club’s training complex, there could be no greater contrast. A desperate urgency sets the scene as Swansea City winger Dan James enters, hoping to complete a move to Elland Road in the nick of time.
The high stakes energy begins to subside as the club’s director of football, Victor Orta, and chief executive Angus Kinnear, relax into the evening, knowing the hard work they’ve put into the deal throughout the weeks leading up to its supposed culmination is about to pay off. James has agreed personal terms, passed a medical with no trouble at all and even began posing for his official unveiling. It only seemed like a matter of time for the near £7m deal for the 21-year-old to be completed.
Suddenly, the race against time was back on and the tension ramped up again. There had been an internal disagreement at the Swansea end and, at the crucial moment, communication between the two clubs stopped. Orta, Kinnear and Dan James sat in stoney silence, anxiously awaiting positive news but, such is the cut throat nature of deadline day, when it doesn’t come in time, everything has to stop.
It is easy to see why this is so attractive to the neutral or casual viewer and that is why it is packaged and sold as drama on a bi-annual basis but Leeds were the subject of an Amazon documentary and their cameras caught every second of the raw, real time events.
When the worst is confirmed, Orta is crestfallen and he heads for his office to contain his frustration. Dan James looks dumbfounded as he says his goodbyes and heads back to Swansea, thrust into limbo and needing to quickly regain his focus. It is a powerful insight into the human side of these late, exciting transfers. Orta mentions about maybe retrying again in the summer.
By then, it was too late. Manchester United swooped in unexpectedly and the Hull-born Wales international headed for Old Trafford. He scored on his debut and certainly looked the part. His age and propensity to excite by carrying the ball at pace from the wing and take players on meant he fit the bill for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s transfer strategy.
But it was surprising for a reason and, as time went on, Dan James found first team opportunities difficult to come by. With every passing game, a move away seemed more and more likely. Leeds, despite having a fierce rivalry with his current club, were unlikely to have left his mind. He certainly hadn’t left theirs.
And so again on deadline day, two-and-a-half years on, Dan James was back at Leeds, only this time he completed his move.
The instant reaction from fans has been lukewarm and understandably so given that the fee is reported to be around £30m, five times what they had originally agreed to pay Swansea.
Every year there are deals which make the collective mind boggle. Prices are going up and, despite wide-ranging acceptance of this, the shock over specific examples never seems to cease. James’ move got that treatment but it is a sad reality that he, as a young, mouldable, Premier League-proven international at one of the biggest clubs in the world, matches much of the criteria for modern over inflation.
That shouldn’t detract from the anticipation of Marcelo Bielsa working his ingenious mind to improve and develop Dan James the way he has Patrick Bamford, now in the England fold alongside Kalvin Phillips, and Raphinha, currently one of the most exciting wingers in English football.
The beauty of Bielsa is he doesn’t often buy the biggest names but he improves players and creates a fearsome unit capable of captivating and entertaining a fanbase with exciting but effective football. Dan James may not be an earth-shattering signing and the scepticism which surrounds his price tag is natural but he has all the attributes to succeed and grow under Bielsa who is, as everybody knows, is the real star attraction.
More pace, more energy and more direct running cannot be a bad thing. Some have suggested James is a signing who unbalances a squad in desperate need of defenders but, in reality, he offers another great option and strengthens where Leeds are already strong.
There is an element of myth about Bielsa’s teams and defending. While there is evidence to suggest they can improve at the back, there are also big games when they have looked solid. These have been ignored by some to fit their agenda.
Bielsa has put noses out of joint and challenged the status quo. Victories over Tottenham and Manchester City, as well as hefty scorelines in his favour against supposed ‘safe pairs of hands’ like Sam Allardyce, Sean Dyche and Steve Bruce last season, have proven he knows best and should always be trusted.
There is pressure and over two years of anticipation weighing on the shoulders of Dan James but his arrival is the next stage for Bielsa’s Leeds and there should be excitement over finally seeing what the pair of them can achieve together.