It wasn’t a vintage performance, but Daniel James must have been pretty happy with his showing for Wales as they edged past the Republic of Ireland in the UEFA Nations League on Sunday evening.
His cross allowed Gareth Bale to tee-up David Brooks for the goal that proved to be the winner at Cardiff City Stadium, and was the highlight of a pretty lively performance.
Much like Bale, or at least the Bale of old, James may well feel that Wales is something of a sanctuary at the moment.
Barely a day goes by without the 23-year-old receiving a kicking from faceless fan accounts on social media, many of whom have somehow concluded that James is an embodiment of everything that’s wrong with Manchester United right now.
This is, of course, utter nonsense.
But, when you think about Bale’s treatment at Real, it’s a strikingly familiar story.
The emergence of Mason Greenwood, as well as a stalling of form, has seen James slip down the pecking order at Old Trafford, and at the moment it’s difficult to see how he can turn the tide.
Even his form for Wales looks a little below par at the moment, although only in so much that we all know he’s capable of so much more.
The vibrant and exciting young talent who burst onto the scene at Swansea City appears to have often given way to a timid rabbit in headlights, terrified of making a mistake.
Confidence counts for so much in this game, and James looks sapped of it whenever he does get the chance to pull on a United shirt right now, a situation made all the more sad given his stunning start to life at Old Trafford.
The longer this current situation continues, the more intense the speculation over his future will become, particularly given that there is a European Championship to prepare for next summer.
Having seen the way in which international team-mate Bale has regained that little spring in his step after rejoining Spurs, James may well feel that something similar will need to happen soon.
Yes, it hasn’t all gone to plan for Bale on his return to North London, but even those within the Wales set-up have noticed just how much he appears to be enjoying his football now that he’s at a club where he truly feels appreciated.
United have insisted that they do still have plans for James, although that may well be more to do with their failure to land long-term target Jadon Sancho than anything else.
A much-touted loan exit was categorically ruled out back in the summer, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was revisted as a possibility in January, particularly with the imminent arrival of exciting teenage winger Amad Diallo from Atalanta, who signed in a deal worth £40million and who will join the Old Trafford ranks in six weeks’ time.
For the sake of his development, and his chances of shining at Euro 2020, James can’t afford to slip down the pecking order any further.
And, should the stance over a loan soften when the window reopens, there are likely to be potential suitors available.
Long-term admirers Leeds United, whose enthusiasm for the player hasn’t exactly been a secret, would likely still be keen if there’s a deal to be done, and there would be few complaining about the prospect of James playing under Marcelo Bielsa.
What’s more, a loan away doesn’t necessarily signal the end of his United career.
Just look at Dean Henderson.
It wasn’t that long ago that the prospect of breaking through ahead of David de Gea and Sergio Romero looked utterly preposterous.
And yet, after a stunning spell on loan at Sheffield United, and with his rivals slipping in form, he’s now seen by many as the best keeper at the club, and even a future England international.
If James can enjoy similar success, it could open a few doors – and silence a few critics.