Neil Humphreys: Man United lucky to have another Welsh wonder
James, 21, carries club and country with goals that are similar in style and significance
Sitting on the bench, Gareth Bale saw his past in Daniel James' future.
Wales' rising star had just curled in his country's stunning winner in a friendly against Belarus yesterday morning (Singapore time) and Bale giggled at James' audacity.
The symbolism was lost on no one. The baton had passed from ageing star to unstoppable upstart, in a ceremony drenched in deja vu.
Like Bale before him, James is a boy doing a man's job for both club and country.
He's rescuing bigger names within the Wales and Manchester United dressing rooms, single-handedly winning contests that he has no right to be winning.
Wales coach Ryan Giggs and United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were no strangers to late rescues when they played together at Old Trafford, but they were veterans among high achievers.
At 21, James is a rookie among underachieving seniors. Every match day must feel like Groundhog Day. He's carrying those around him.
His lovely, trademark finish, cutting inside from the left and bending a strike away from the goalkeeper, was his second for Wales. More impressively, he's netted four times in his last six games for club and country.
With three goals in the English Premier League, James finds himself level with the likes of Mo Salah and Harry Kane.
The summer signing considered the least significant of Solskjaer's three purchases now looks irreplaceable, which is both a credit to the winger's dramatic impact and a criticism of those around him.
He can't seem to miss while others struggle to score, leaving his managers in a bit of bind.
Giggs intended to rest James for the Belarus friendly, fully aware of his recent form and the unremitting glare of the global spotlight.
As a former winger with a penchant for cutting inside from the left, Giggs empathised with James' sudden elevation and the exhausting nature of his position. But the kid's consistency left the Wales boss with no choice.
James started. Bale was left on the bench.
The occasion really was dripping with symbolism.
Bale used to do this stuff when he was James' age, dancing past right-backs and dismissing pressure with the glorious contempt of youth. But, when he came on for James in the 50th minute, Wales lost half a step.
James was initially one for his country's future, but the future is now.
At United, Solskjaer faces a similar dilemma.
In pre-season, James featured on the right wing, playing in front of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The pair complemented each other in an area where United have struggled in recent seasons.
But James' finest performances have come from the left, his preferred position, allowing him to drift inside, as he did so effectively against Belarus.
The trouble is he followed a similar route to goal against Crystal Palace and Southampton for United. He scored in both games.
Solskjaer allowed Alexis Sanchez to leave for many, well-documented reasons, including a pressing need to fix his line-up's obvious imbalance.
Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all favour the left side of any attack. Two doesn't go into one, let alone three, so the skulking Sanchez was shown the door.
Solskjaer bought James to address the paucity of quick, dynamic options on his right wing, only for the Welsh dragon to take flight on the other flank.
Even then, United's tactical dilemma may prove less problematic than the temperamental issue.
James' industry is relentless.
He scurries around like an over-eager Duracell Bunny, while his club mates look like fading batteries in urgent need of charging.
His meteoric rise is perhaps less surprising for Wales, a team who remain a determined mix of honest toilers, Championship battlers and a Galactico.
But he wasn't expected to dominate in the fourth most expensive squad in world football.
He's a £15m (S$25.5m) signing from Swansea City outshining teammates with a combined transfer cost of US$829 million (S$1.1b), according to recent research.
Solskjaer still lacks a balanced line-up because his most reliable performer delivers best on the opposite flank than originally intended. But James must get the nod on the left because he's scoring where Rashford and others are not.
His style draws inevitable comparisons with Giggs and even Arjen Robben, but he bares the closest resemblance to the superstar sniggering on the bench.
Unlike Giggs and Robben, a young Bale had to once rely on his electrifying ability to salvage results for less reliable team-mates at Tottenham Hotspur.
James has no choice but to do exactly the same at Manchester United.
Daniel James has scored four goals in his last six games for both club and country.