PETALING JAYA: Manchester United star Daniel James says his “unbelievable” badminton idol Lee Chong Wei deserved to be the world champion and was unlucky to have ended his career without the title.
The 22-year-old Welshman, who confessed to being a big fan of Chong Wei last year, added that the Malaysian legend’s graceful movement on the court was always a joy to watch.
Regarded as the nearlyman of world badminton, Chong Wei is a three-time silver medallist at both the World Championships and Olympic Games.
“I have always been a massive admirer of him (Chong Wei). He was very unlucky not to win a World Championship, ” said James in a recorded interview in the All-England’s show “Never Mind The Shuttlecocks” uploaded on YouTube on Tuesday.
“Always watched him on the court, unbelievable. The way he moved around, he made the game look so easy.”
James, who scored three goals in 27 appearances since joining the Red Devils last year, admitted to watching many matches between Chong Wei and arch-rival Lin Dan and enjoyed the rivalry between the two finest shuttlers of their generation.
James even managed to catch Chong Wei in action when he defeated Lin Dan 22-20,15-21,21-4 in the semi-finals of the Asian Badminton Championships in 2016.
“I have always watched the finals between him and Lin Dan, ” said James, who cost Manchester United £15mil (RM77.9mil) from Hull.
“I watched a game when he actually came back from 7-14 against Lin Dan. I think he (Chong Wei) always had great games.
“He’s retired now. Happy retirement to him but what a great player.”
James had previously revealed his admiration for Chong Wei to Astro SuperSport last October and related how an incident that took place during United’s pre-season tour in Singapore led to the duo forging a friendship.
Chong Wei himself is an avid Manchester United fan.
“He (Chong Wei) was outside getting signatures. I actually hadn’t looked up. If I had, I would have had a good conversation with him, ” said James.
“When someone told me he had been there, I messaged him straight away and I didn’t know he was a big United fan and I went on his (Instagram) page and could see that.
“I said ‘I couldn’t really see you’... just apologised to him and since then, we have had frequent contact and he often wishes me luck for games.
“He has actually sent signed jerseys and a racquet, and I’m obviously going to send a jersey of mine as well.”
Also in the three-and-a-half minute video, James recalled how he first took up badminton besides playing football during his childhood.
“I first started when I was nine. I think was into it because my brother, who is three or four years older than me, always played it and still plays it now, ” he said.
“That time, it was football but you love badminton as well. I had to stop when I was 12 because I signed for Hull and that was a full-time contract, I didn’t have time to play during the weekends because I was playing football matches.
“It was a game that I really enjoyed.”