The Football League Paper - - FA CUP FOURTH ROUND - By Chris Dunlavy

REECE James vividly re­mem­bers the 90 hu­mil­i­at­ing min­utes that “killed” his dreams of play­ing for Manch­ester United.

Au­gust 26, 2014. MK Dons 4, United 0. A de­feat so seis­mic and com­plete that, of the 11 play­ers who walked onto the pitch, only David de Gea re­mains on the Old Traf­ford pay­roll.

Rid­dled by in­juries and paired with League One min­nows, new Reds boss Louis van Gaal ef­fec­tively chucked a clutch of untested young­sters into a sink or swim ex­er­cise.

Lack­ing guid­ance from se­nior play­ers like Javier Her­nan­dez and Shinji Ka­gawa, they sank like a stone. Out­played. Out­fought. Out­ma­noeu­vred in al­most ev­ery as­pect. The great­est day in MK Dons’ his­tory was also one of the dark­est in United’s.

James was one of them, a 20year-old kid whose dream de­but de­scended into night­mare. And, deep down, he knew that his first ap­pear­ance in the fa­mous red shirt would prob­a­bly be his last.

“It was a ter­ri­ble night,” con­cedes James, who joined Wi­gan in the sum­mer of 2015. “We were a team who’d never played to­gether be­fore, against a team who were re­ally up for it.


“And let’s not for­get how tal­ented they were ei­ther. You look where Benik Afobe and Dele Alli are now and it maybe puts things in a bit of con­text. “We made a mis­take for the first goal and just went un­der. We needed a leader to pull us through and we didn’t re­ally have any. “That game killed me re­ally, but I can only fault my­self. The gaffer gave me an op­por­tu­nity and I didn’t im­press on the night. At clubs like United, you know you might not get an­other.” In James’ case, that de­feat prompted a bout of soul search­ing, and the kind of ques­tions no player wants to ask him­self. “Some­times you’ve just got to look in the mir­ror and be hon­est about whether you’re good enough to make the grade,” he ad­mits. “And at that time, I felt I wasn’t. “When you’re at Man United, it’s the pin­na­cle, the big­gest club in the world. It’s a club you don’t want to leave, es­pe­cially be­cause you feel part of the fam­ily and the his­tory.

“But I’d been out on loan twice and wasn’t any closer to the first team. There comes a point where you have to think ‘It’s not go­ing to hap­pen for me here’.

“You’ve just got to be a man about it, look at your­self and say ‘I’m go­ing to get out, im­prove my­self and maybe there’ll be a route back’. Danny Drinkwa­ter is a very good ex­am­ple of some­one who left United and worked his way back to the top.”

To­day James will re­turn to Old Traf­ford for the first time, hop­ing to grace a pitch that he has only pre­vi­ously trod­den in Un­der-21 games.

And as the nag­ging pain of that Dons de­feat di­min­ishes, he has plenty of good mem­o­ries to re­flect on – not least a brace against LA Gal­axy in his first ever ap­pear­ance for United in July 2014.

“I’ll never for­get that game,” says the full-back. “I re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing – David Beck­ham com­ing to our ho­tel, warm­ing up, half-time on the pitch.


“I re­mem­ber com­ing on, wracked with nerves. I was ac­tu­ally very jelly-legged. Then I scored the first goal and all the nerves melted away – it felt like I was play­ing parks foot­ball.”

Mem­o­ries, too, of the friends made along the way, par­tic­u­larly his men­tor Ryan Giggs and close friend Jesse Lin­gard, who is likely to start at Old Traf­ford to­day.

“I met some great peo­ple at United,” he says. “Phil Jones is some­one who helped me out a lit­tle bit. Ryan Giggs was a big help. When he was as­sis­tant to Van Gaal, he was al­ways tak­ing time to talk to the young lads, say­ing ‘Lis­ten, keep work­ing, keep go­ing, you’ll get your chance’. And he was right. You just need to look at Mar­cus Rash­ford and Jesse of course.

“Rash was pretty young when I was there but Jesse I know re­ally well. It was un­be­liev­able to see him score in the Cup fi­nal. Ev­ery­one who knows him will have been made up.

“Jesse is a great ex­am­ple of some­one who stuck it out at United. He had a lot of loan spells, could have moved on. But he kept go­ing and got his re­ward. I haven’t re­ally spo­ken to him since I’ve left but I’m sure there’ll be a bit of ban­ter in the tun­nel.”

Per­haps the big­gest in­flu­ence, though, is cur­rent Lat­ics boss War­ren Joyce, the for­mer Man United re­serve boss who spent eight years nur­tur­ing the likes of Lin­gard, Rash­ford and Paul Pogba be­fore ar­riv­ing at the DW in Novem­ber.

“He’s ex­actly the same,” said James. “I was re­ally pleased when he got the job here be­cause he’s some­one who played a mas­sive part in my de­vel­op­ment. Even af­ter I left, he came to watch me, rang me on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. I think he’s like that with ev­ery player he’s worked with in the past. He’s the one who made me into a Cham­pi­onship player and hope­fully he can im­prove me even more.”

James ad­mits those jelly legs may re­turn to­day and not just be­cause he’s back at United. If the 23-year-old gets off the bench, it will be his first ap­pear­ance af­ter a year out with ten­don and lig­a­ment prob­lems.

He has spent long months dreaming of this mo­ment, helped only by his brother Matty, the Le­ices­ter City mid­fielder who has just joined Barns­ley on loan af­ter missing the whole of the Foxes’ ti­tle win­ning cam­paign through in­jury. .

“It seemed like a mi­nor in­jury and I went over to Spain for surgery,” he ex­plains. “But there were un­der­ly­ing prob­lems that only emerged when I got back train­ing. I broke down in pre-sea­son and ende need­ing a sec­ond surge


“It’s been tough, and thing that helped me brother. He had a cru­cia at the same time, and ac suf­fered a lot worse. think ‘Well, at least I’m not that bad’.

“We ac­tu­ally lived to­gether in a house in Manch­ester at the time. He was two-weeks house­bound on his crutches, couldn’t re­ally move. It was my job to get up and do the cof­fees.

“But then the ta­bles turned and it was my go. I rang my lit­tle bell and rinsed life out of him!”

Matty is hop­ing to b Traf­ford to­day, along clutch of friends and fa

“If I was to come on, be a bit nerve-wrack­ing Reece.

“But as soon as you have your first touch, you set­tle down, fo­cus and ev­ery­thing else goes out of your mind.”

OLD DAYS: Reece James at United and, in­set, Jesse Lin­gard

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.