"He never disappeared."
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appeared to take offence when it was suggested that Daniel James had 'reemerged' for Manchester United.
The United boss was speaking after his side's 3-1 win over Newcastle took them back to second place in the Premier League table.
James netted the all-important second goal against the Magpies, his fifth in all competitions, already eclipsing the total he managed in his first season at Old Trafford.
"He has been working hard behind the scenes and always been available. He is always a player you can use in different areas with his energy and pace," Solskjaer added.
But the fact remains that after featuring in 33 league games last campaign, James' role under Solskjaer had taken a significant step back.
The start against Newcastle was just his eighth Premier League appearance of the season, with the emergence of Mason Greenwood greatly limiting his opportunities.
It wasn't always like that however. After signing from Swansea City in the summer of 2019, the Welshman was instantly made a crucial part of Solskjaer's squad.
In fact, he started 17 of the first 18 league games that season, even drawing comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ryan Giggs identified that his ability to draw fouls and continue pressing forward with the ball was reminiscent of the Portuguese superstar.
“Dan takes a lot of knocks but gets up, gets on with it and demands the ball back," he said in November 2019.
“Ronaldo, especially earlier on in his career, took a lot of knocks and would still demand the ball. It shows huge bravery.
“It was a physical game. You’ve got to stand up for yourself. You’ve got to trust in the referee as well that he protects the players.
“Over the years forwards have been more and more protected. But we have a few players who receive nasty treatment because of the quality they possess.”
Fast forward to January 2021 and the Wales manager admitted that James was growing increasingly frustrated at his lack of opportunites.
"I think Ole would take the safe option and keep as many quality players in the club as he can," he told Stadium Astro.
“Yes, it would be frustrating. I know that Dan is frustrated. Just like any other player who isn’t getting regular football.
"But when you are at a big club like United when you get the chance take it.”
And in the past week, he has done just that.
Starting against Real Sociedad, the 23-year-old registered a goal and an assist, before scoring again in Sunday's win over Newcastle.
"It is a turnaround [for me]," he explained. "There was a moment last season when I maybe was not performing as well as I wanted to do. I have just been working in the training ground as hard as I can.
"I kind of lost my way a bit. I have been working with the coaches to get me back to myself and I'd like to think I've got there now."
Ryan Giggs and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will both be sincerely hoping that he has.
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