When Manchester United took on Hull City at Old Trafford in the penultimate game of the 2013-14 season, it ended with the club’s supporters dwelling over a couple of momentous occasions. The biggest one was arguably Nemanja Vidic’s final appearance at Old Trafford, following 8 years of outstanding service to the club. Ryan Giggs’ too played his last game as a United player that evening, with news of his retirement announced at the end of the season. Having been appointed interim manager in the wake of David Moyes’ dismissal following United’s worst league campaign in over two and a half decades, Giggs warmed up on the touchline, readied himself and shimmied past a few Hull City defenders as a testament to his endearing qualities.
The other talking point that night was the emergence of youngster James Wilson. The 18-year-old academy striker netted two goals on his competitive debut for the first team and looked menacing throughout the game. His first strike was the sort of goal you would expect a centre-forward to bury. A free-kick from right hand side was knocked down by Marouane Fellaini and Wilson struck the ball powerfully past Hull goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic to give United the lead. He got his second from an enterprising move involving Fellaini and fellow academy colleague Adnan Januzaj. Regardless of the finish, Wilson got the crowd buzzing with his sheer pace and trickery and was substituted to a standing ovation by the Old Trafford faithful.
A lot has changed since that glorious night for the youngster. The appointment of Louis van Gaal in the summer proved rather detrimental for Wilson as the likes of Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria changed the blueprint set in place for the season to follow. Wilson did make a handful of appearances though, albeit from the bench and scored his first goal of the 2014-15 Premier League campaign against Queens Park Rangers in a 2-0 win at Loftus Road. His only other strike came in a 3-0 win against Cambridge United in an FA Cup replay. By and large, it wasn’t the breakthrough season many had anticipated but with time on his side, there remained plenty of hype surrounding the Mancunian.
Wilson spent the majority of the 2015-16 season on loan in the Championship with Brighton & Hove Albion and scored five goals in 28 appearances for Chris Hughton’s side. His standout moment during that spell was a fine individual goal in a 3-2 win against Charlton Athletic. Having picked up the ball deep inside his opponents’ half, Wilson embarrassed the visitors’ defence by beating four players and slotting the ball home. It was a reminder of what he was capable of and what Manchester United were sorely missing in a horrendous winless streak.
Derby, who were United’s fourth round opponents in the FA Cup last season came agonisingly close to the Championship play-off final when they almost overturned a three-goal deficit in the second leg against Hull City, who would later go on to beat Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley to secure promotion. As far as goals are concerned, they had two players with double figures in the league, Chris Martin and Tom Ince but all that said and done, the rest of the squad lacked proficiency in front of goal. Former Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson is at the helm this season and he will be aiming for the automatic promotion spots with this squad. The arrival of Wilson will surely help expedite the process, given his strength, calibre and desire to play regularly. His experience with Brighton will prove handy as well, thereby creating an optimal situation for both parties.
Wilson is still viewed as an important player at Old Trafford and will certainly return to Manchester United in order to fulfill his potential. However, current circumstances dictate otherwise and a second loan spell in the Championship will surely rejuvenate the 20-year-old. An exciting season awaits.