Manchester City may rue the day that they overlooked young Danny Welbeck as a potential player for their youth academy.
“City custard-pied me as a kid,” said Welbeck when describing his rejection from the Manchester club as an eight-year old. The lifelong Red Devils fan worked harder after the rejection, and was scouted by Manchester United in a tournament a week later, playing for his local side Fletcher Moss.
Welbeck, born and raised in Manchester, of Ghanaian descent, found himself discovering his love for the game at Markfield Avenue in Longsight, a small town approximately four miles away from Old Trafford. Welbeck was academically gifted as a youth, obtaining 12 GSCEs and could have went on to become a successful university student – but his drive and motivation to become a professional footballer, put those academic dreams on hold. He was often found playing on the streets with former United player Wes Brown and his brothers, who coincidentally were his neighbours. Welbeck’s parents Victor and Elizabeth, who emigrated from Ghana in the 1970’s, have watched their son develop into one of United’s invaluable players this season.
22-year old Welbeck hasn’t always found his United career enjoyable, and needed time on loan to fine-tune his raw talent. In 2010, Welbeck joined Preston North End, where the Englishman scored two goals in eight appearances. Unfortunately for the Mancunian, his loan spell ended before it really began, as he was sidelined due to a swollen knee injury.
It was Welbeck’s successful loan spell at Sunderland in 2010/2011, where the Englishman came to life, scoring six Premier League goals, in 26 appearances – most notably his goal in a 3-0 mauling of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Welbeck speaks highly about his time with the Black Cats, as he believes that it enhanced his development as a player.
“I went to Sunderland as a boy and I came back a man,” Welbeck said.
“It was beneficial to me and like a stepping stone in my career. It allowed me to come back to United a bigger and better person,” he said.
Scoring goals has been a key element towards Manchester United claiming their 20th Premier League title. United currently lead the league in goals scored, with 79, failing to score in only two games. The signing of Robin Van Persie in the summer has been key in United’s successful attempt to grasp the title from their noisy neighbours, as the Dutch striker has scored 25 league goals. 19 different players have contributed to Manchester United’s 79 goals this season, which is a Premier League record.
Welbeck is one of the 19 men that have scored for United this season, but has failed to find the back of the net as often as he’d like too. Last season the English striker netted nine Premier League goals, forming a devastating partnership on the club and international stage with teammate Wayne Rooney. Welbeck led the line for England in Euro 2012 last summer; where he had a decent tournament, producing a sublime finish against Sweden, in which the Three Lions were victorious. The future looked bright for the English striker, as it was certain that he would be a permanent starter for United this season.
Unfortunately for the 22-year-old, the arrival of Van Persie has forced United to shuffle the pack, which has seen Rooney drop in the hole behind the Dutch striker, while Javier Hernandez and Welbeck have made minimal appearances. It was evident that the introduction of Van Persie would stall the development of these two young strikers, and many tabloid papers speculated Welbeck’s departure away from Old Trafford this season, on loan to Reading. Although Welbeck’s minutes have been cut, the English striker has improved his all-around game over the past 12 months, and should play an integral role in United’s quest to become one of the top sides in European football.
Welbeck has been given a different role this season, as he rarely featured as United’s main striker. The Englishman has shown his versatility in United’s 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 system, as Welbeck can play on both flanks and occasionally in the hole behind Van Persie. Welbeck would be every managers dream player, based on his ability to fulfill any duty that Sir Alex Ferguson has instructed him to complete this season. The Englishman possesses pace, power and the technical ability to succeed as a striker, and most recently we’ve been able to witness his tactical acumen of the game.
The Englishman’s standout performance against Real Madrid in the Champions League, allowed Welbeck to showcase his tactical cognizance to the world. Welbeck started on the left hand side in the first leg, and defensively he didn’t have much work to do, as Alvaro Arbeloa rarely surged forward. The Englishman did possess a threat on the counter attack with his pace, and he scored United’s all-important away goal from a corner kick.
In the second leg, Welbeck was assigned a different job, as he was instructed to close down Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso. Many questioned Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision in selecting Welbeck over Rooney in a monumental Champions League tie, and the United boss had this to say pre-match,
“Xabi Alonso controls the game for Real Madrid…[tracking back] Danny Welbeck is the best at that in our team, plus he can work from there to support Robin van Persie,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson may not be known for his tactical shrewdness, but his decision to drop Rooney was wise. In the first leg, Rooney did a poor job in tracking Fabio Coentrao, who bombed past Rooney on several occasions and in the quarter-finals against Italy at Euro 2012, he allowed Pirlo to dominate the game. Rooney failed to pick up the Italian playmaker, as he did against Sergio Busquets in the 2011 Champions League final. Pirlo on the night completed more passes than the entire English midfield, while Rooney left United outnumbered in midfield against Barcelona.
Rooney couldn’t be trusted to fulfill his defensive duties, and Welbeck rose to the occasion in a fine matter. Welbeck nullified Alonso, preventing him from playing long diagonals and forward passes.
The Englishman also troubled Madrid going forward as he often ran past Alonso and connected with Van Persie – unfortunately for United, Welbeck was unable to beat Diego Lopez.
According to whoscored.com, Welbeck possesses an 86.4% pass completion rate, the highest of any striker in the Premier League – higher than English colleagues Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere. Statistically, the United player has been superb when given the opportunity to play, as he’s improved his all-around game. Modern day football has advanced, and attacking players need to be able to provide more than just goals. It may be overlooked, but Welbeck merits his position as United’s third choice striker based on his versatility. The Englishman has the ability to win key aerial duels, but also beat defenders with his pace, which explains why Ferguson trusts Welbeck to play in different positions across the pitch.
As stated earlier, his passing is efficient, especially around the final third and his ability to win tackles on the defensive end has been a positive for United.
Ferguson has played the 22-year-old striker in some of United’s big games this season, specifically, away to Newcastle, Tottenham and Real Madrid, and home to Manchester City and Liverpool. Welbeck has the skill set and tactical awareness to play in these monumental matches and Ferguson now trusts Welbeck to successfully complete his job.
Many may question Ferguson’s decision to include Welbeck in the squad because he’s clumsy on the ball and his erratic finishing, but the young Englishman is still maturing into a top-class player. Despite his dismal goal-scoring return, Ferguson stated that Welbeck’s goal drought hasn’t left him concerned.
“It’s a fantastic asset when you have a player who is as adaptable as that. But I think he will find his role through the middle once he gets that maturity and gets into a more consistent way of scoring,” Ferguson said.
“Maybe he doesn’t appreciate us moving him around in various positions and we’ve maybe overused that because he is young, but his value to the club is there because I know he can do a job for me in any of those positions,” he said.
Welbeck’s growth over the past year has been impressive, as the Englishman has become one of United’s top players. In Ferguson’s system, Welbeck can play as an energetic winger, in the hole to disrupt deep-lying playmakers, or as a central striker that holds off defenders and allows his team to join the play. The ability and the tactical awareness he possesses may one day see him become the top striker for club and country. Welbeck has yet to play his best football for United and his place in the squad is indispensable – it’s scary that he’s only 22.