As the January transfer window approached in the 2018/19 season it seriously looked like Leeds United could seal their long-awaited return to the Premier League.
Up until New Year’s Eve, Marcelo Bielsa’s side only spent three game weeks outside the automatic promotion places and headed into 2019 topping the table.
But it was clear that it had been a miraculous first half of the season. Bielsa had brought the very best out of average players and negotiated injuries impressively but there was a real sense that the squad needed to be strengthened in the winter window if they were to maintain their push for a top-two finish.
So, as January begun, there were two positions of priority; a goalkeeper and a winger.
Kiko Casilla arrived from Real Madrid in what looked like an impressive coup to solve one problem and it became more and more widely known that the winger desired by Bielsa was Swansea City’s Dan James.
The 21-year-old had impressed throughout the first half of the season, dazzling and bewildering opposition full-backs with his blistering pace. He looked like a seriously good fit for Bielsa’s system.
But weeks passed and still the deal had not been confirmed. On transfer deadline day, however, with James in the building, it looked like it would finally be forced through.
At the last minute, though, Swansea pulled the plug.
As the season progressed Leeds stayed in touch, but with automatic promotion falling away first, their play-off chances were then extinguished by Derby last week as well.
And with the summer window now open, missing out on James is starting to look like an even bigger mistake.
On Tuesday night, Football Insider reported that the winger was ready to undergo a medical at Old Trafford ahead of a £15million move to the Whites’ arch-rivals Manchester United.
There will surely be a real sense of having let a real gem escape their clutches.
Had Leeds acted quicker in January and been more assertive in their approach, James will have surely been plying his trade at Elland Road.
Maybe he would have made the difference in the promotion race. Maybe he wouldn’t have. But there is no doubt that he would be a valuable player heading into the new campaign.
But instead, they are left still trying to fill the same gap they were back in January.