Ever since scoring two goals on his Manchester United debut against Hull City in May 2014, James Wilson’s stock has been on a steady rise. And ever since he scored five goals for the Under-18 side against Newcastle United in September 2012, Wilson has continued his prodigious goal-scoring exploits for the Red Devils across various levels. He was instrumental in the Red Devils’ run to the Under-21 Premier League Cup Final, where they lost to Chelsea. In fact, last season saw Wilson score for the Under-18s, Under-19s, Under-21s and also the senior team. Although Manchester United’s academy has seen plenty of promising young players come through, barring Danny Welbeck, there haven’t been too many strikers and Wilson will be looking to change that.
Born in December 1995 in Biddulph, Staffordshire, Wilson was spotted by Manchester United’s scouts at the tender age of 7. Slowly but surely Wilson made his way through Manchester United’s youth set-up and made his Under-18 debut as a 14-year-old back in October 2010. He scored twice in the Milk Cup in the 2010/11 season and was looking to break through next season.
Although a broken ankle stalled his progress at the start of 2011/12 season, he was back in 2012, whereupon he continued from where he left off and also made his debut for the reserves, coming on as a 61st-minute substitute for Frédéric Veseli in the game against West Bromwich Albion on 6 March 2012. Injuries again curtailed his progress in the following season, but not before he signed his first professional contract on his 17th birthday.
Although he continued playing for the Under-18s, he was starting to make an impact in the reserve side during the second half of the 2013/14 season. His performance was rewarded with a place on the bench for the 4–0 away win over Newcastle United, before he made his senior debut in the club’s last home League game of the season against Hull, where he netted a brace before making way for Robin Van Persie.
Style of Play
Primarily used as a central striker, the 18-year-old English youngster is equally at home on the wings. Although he is predominantly left footed, Wilson can also finish with the right foot, both from inside and outside the box. A natural-born finisher, Wilson has demonstrated his ability in front of goal throughout his career. Whether it is from inside or outside the box, Wilson has shown that he is a fleet-footed finisher whose predatory instincts make him a player to watch out for, in the foreseeable future.
Wilson’s biggest strength is undoubtedly his finishing as he showed in his first-team debut for Manchester United, when he netted two goals in front of the home crowd. While United already have a world-class finisher in Chicharito, what differentiates Wilson from most other predatory strikers is that he can finish with both feet, from both inside and outside the box.
Another asset of his that is likely to hold him in good stead for the first team is his devastating pace and acceleration. This means that not only can he operate as a central striker, he is more than useful on the flanks, where he can stretch the game. Although he is just 18, his composure in front of goal and his ability to bring his team-mates into the game is a mark of a player who is experienced well beyond his years.
At 5ft 11in, Wilson isn’t the most physical of strikers. Although he makes up for it with his pace, he might not always be able to speed past his markers, especially as he starts to play against experienced professionals. Another cause of concern, more than his physique, is his injury record. In the last three years, Wilson has broken his ankle and has been plagued with several minor injuries. For a player who relies so much on his physical attributes, that doesn’t bode well for the future.
Towards the end of last season, Wilson forced his way into the fringes of the United first-team. With Louis Van Gaal at the helm, Wilson will be hoping for a few more opportunities in the first team. Although the squad are well stocked in the striking department, Wilson’s versatility and Van Gaal’s insistence on giving youth a chance means that Wilson might well become a regular in the first-team squad at the end of this season.
The 18-year-old James Wilson has already made a name for himself in the club’s academy and will be hoping that 2014 is the year when he finally begins to showcase his potential in the biggest stage of them all. If he continues his current progress, he might very well turn out to be one of the most clinical finishers of his generation and end up as a mainstay of the Manchester United lineup for a very long time.