James Wilson: What Happened to the Former Prodigious Manchester United Talent & Where Is He Now?

Adam Aladay
Manchester United v Hull City - Premier League
Manchester United v Hull City - Premier League / Alex Livesey/Getty Images
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Like so many to have come through Manchester United's academy before him and since, there was a lot of excitement surrounding a young James Wilson.

At the club from just seven years of age, Wilson progressed through the ranks at the Red Devils, before being handed a shock debut by caretaker boss Ryan Giggs on 6 May 2014.

As it turned out, it was a debut to remember, as the 18-year-old striker struck twice in a 3-1 win over Hull City. His first strike on 31 minutes saw him become United's fourth-youngest player to score in the Premier League at the time. Immediately, media attention understandably grew, but even prior to his stunning debut, there was plenty of talk from within the club that Wilson had all the attributes to become a top player.

Composed and ruthless in front of goal but equally capable of playing with his back to goal, Wilson was the complete striker at youth level, and defenders simply weren't able to deal with him. At just 14, he made his debut for the Under-18s in a friendly in October 2010, but following an ankle injury at the start of the 2011/12 season, it wouldn't be until the second half of the campaign before he was able to return.

However, such was his talent, he quickly cemented his place in the Under-18s side, netting regularly. Wilson actually made a slow start to the 2012/13 season, but made up for not scoring in the first four games of the season by bagging five goals against Newcastle in September 2012.

Four of these goals came within the space of just 35 minutes.

Wilson continued to score goals for fun, and it didn't take long before he made the step up to the Under-23s. This didn't faze him, however, instead continuing to ruthlessly fire in. Perhaps the most exciting thing was that he was scoring a variety of goals - headers, left foot, right foot, tap-ins and from long range, as well.

When Giggs opted to select him to start against Hull in 2014, it came as quite a surprise to some - Wilson included - considering he had been training with the first team for just two weeks. But in reality, this was a player that had excelled at youth level and had proven in his short career that he wouldn't be overawed by the big stage.

The then 18-year-old went on to bag two well-taken goals, but it was his overall performance that had fans so excited. The following year, Wilson penned a new four-year contract, with Louis van Gaal branding him 'one of the brightest young English prospects'.

FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-HULL
FBL-ENG-PR-MAN UTD-HULL / PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

However, now 24 years of age, Wilson hasn't quite managed to live up to the billing.

After penning his new deal, four fairly indifferent loan spells followed, with injuries not aiding the forward in his efforts to play regular first-team football. After, he departed Man Utd permanently, joining Aberdeen in the summer of 2019.

While it is most definitely not unusual for a youngster to simply fail to cut it after making a bright start to their professional career, the case of Wilson was different. The Englishman was a hugely exciting prospect, with his speed, finishing and link-up play making him a very complete player from a young age.

Whether it was injuries, attitude or a combination of factors, Wilson wasn't supposed to be playing in the fourth tier of English football - but that is where he is right now.

After failing to score a single goal for Aberdeen in 16 attempts in 2019/20, Wilson signed an 18-month deal with League Two side Salford City, where he has made six appearances so far. He's only managed to score twice, with both goals coming on his debut for the club.

Wilson's career at United could have been very different had he not suffered so many injuries, while the departure of Van Gaal also didn't help. Although United fans may look at Wilson's time at the club with a sense of 'what if', Wilson himself will always have the memory and feeling of scoring twice on his debut for one of the biggest clubs in the world.


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