It might seem odd to be a 19-year-old playing for Manchester United and also to be slightly annoyed about that fact, but if James Wilson was feeling a little put out with his club at the moment, it would be hard to blame him. He has, for want of a more scientific term, been roundly dicked about this summer — staying? going? who knows — and at one point it was reported that he had actually joined Derby.
He hadn't. The latest position seems to be that Wilson, having been waved in the face of most of the Championship on loan, will now not be heading down to the second tier. Instead, he'll stay and jostle for the striking spot with currently-injured captain Wayne Rooney, hilariously expensive new boy Anthony Martial, and chaotic siege weapon Marouane Fellaini.
Whether he'll actually get any football is another question. You'd hope that United's management were planning to use him, having kept him, yet he didn't even make the bench against Liverpool last Saturday or PSV on Tuesday. That latter omission came into sharp focus when United went behind: Van Gaal looked to the bench that he had chosen for attacking options, and found only Fellaini and Antonio Valencia looking back at him. Still, he'd filled four of his seven slots with two central defenders and two central midfielders. Safety first!
This needs to change. It's important that space is found for him, at least on the bench, and not just for the sake of his development. United are likely to need him, young and inexperienced and unpolished though he might be. Because while he isn't likely to score 20 goals this season, nor is anybody else.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways to organise a squad's striking options. Clubs lucky enough to have a clear, reliable, 20-to-25 goal a season striker need back-up options: somebody who can fill in in the event of injury or rotation and be thrown on when the main man doesn't fire, but who won't mind spending most of their time on the bench. That's what Wilfried Bony is doing at Manchester City; that's what Loic Remy and Falcao are doing at Chelsea.
But barring some sudden reflowering of Wayne Rooney's goalscoring touch — and even if he isn't in irreversible decline, he's only broken 20 league goals twice in his eleven seasons at Old Trafford — United don't have the equivalent of Diego Costa or Sergio Aguero. This isn't necessarily a disaster, but it is a problem that needs negotiating. And Van Gaal's best chance of doing that is to give himself as many choices as possible. If you can't have the best every week, then have as much of the second best as you can cram in.
One veteran, two kids, and a midfielder who happens to be very tall: none are the entire solution, but each could be a part. Wilson will likely be useful: regardless of his age, he already has plenty of good about him. He's quick, which defenders hate, and he shoots on sight, which can really annoy goalkeepers. And he offers something different to the rest of Van Gaal's options, such that plenty of combinations suggest themselves. Stick him up top with Rooney or Mata behind him; play him in a three with Martial and Memphis on the flanks; hell, why not have him foraging next to Fellaini for some old school big-man little-man action. None of those are title-winning combinations in their own, but each could win a game.
To some extent, United's staff chose this situation, and now the job is to make the best of it. And that won't happen until Van Gaal chooses to load his bench with everything he has. Put all the forwards in the squad. Put as many of them on the pitch as the game demands. Get more than ten goals out of each of them. Not only does that form the basis of a decent season, but it saves us all from the sight of Antonio Valencia coming on to chase a game. Nobody deserves that.