Monday, 10 October 2011

Danny Welbeck: Local boy in the photograph

"There's no mistake, I smell that smell, it's that time of year again, the clocks go back......."

As we approach the time of year when the clocks go back, I never expected Danny Welbeck to be the the flavour of the month with the Manchester United fans.  At the start of the season I'd have had him down as United's 5th choice striker, behind Rooney, Hernandez, Berbatov and Owen.  So far this season he's played himself into at least 3rd choice, if not an automatic starting role.  Hernandez's season is yet to really get going, having been dogged by niggling injuries, and it's fair to say that Welbeck has been the more impressive of the two.  I'm sure Danny doesn't like to see his team-mates suffering, however he's grasped the opportunity with both hands.

In the 5 league games Welbeck has featured in, he's scored 3 goals, and he's also bagged 2 in the Champions League, in just 1 appearance.  However, it's more than just the goals that has impressed.  Welbeck's overall gameplay has been something of a revelation.  His pace, power ,movement, and excellent link up play have gone far beyond the level I'd expected.  Last summer he left us a boy, for a season on loan at Sunderland, however he's now returned, a man, as he himself has alluded to in recent interviews.  He couldn't cut a more different figure than the skinny teenager who rifled in against Stoke, from 30 yards, on his Premier League debut. You can watch his debut strike below:

It seemed at the time that this would see Welbeck's United career kick into gear, but it didn't quite turn out like that.  Obviously nobody expected him to be a starter, with the likes of Rooney, Berbatov, Tevez and Ronaldo for competition, but I thought we'd at least see him given plenty of opportunities.  As it turned out Welbeck featured only twice more in the league that season, failing to add to his goal tally on either occasion.  The following season followed a similar pattern, with 5 Premier League appearances and 0 goals.  The blame for the poor goalscoring form can not be laid solely at the feet of Welbeck, however, as he was often used out of position, usually on the left wing, where he never truly looked comfortable.  Infamously, Welbeck played in the 1-0 home defeat to Besiktas in December '09, coming in for a lot of criticism for his performance on the night - he was far from alone in giving a poor display, though,as a 4 year unbeaten home record came to an end.

Perhaps sensing that United fans were losing faith in the local boy, Sir Alex decided to send him on loan to Preston North End, at the time managed by his son, Darren.  The hope would surely have been that Welbeck would gain some much needed first team experience in a competitive environment, however things did not go according to plan.  Welbeck managed 2 goals in 8 appearances before a knee injury flared up and the loan had to be cut short.  Welbeck was recalled in March, in order to have surgery on the problem, which brought a disappointing campaign to an end.

August 2010 saw a move to Steve Bruce's Sunderland, on a season long loan, in what could possibly have been described as a make or break move for the player.  If this didn't work out, you'd think that he'd have been unlikely to come back to Manchester United for any other reason than to be placed on the transfer list.  Thankfully things didn't pan out that way.  A modest return of 6 goals in 28 appearances doesn't tell the true story of Welbeck's time at Sunderland, where he was often a key player in the side.  Some vital goals were scored along the way, including the winner in a home game against Bolton and a goal in the 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge - which will only have endeared him to the Old Trafford faithful, as well as Sir Alex.  Welbeck's form prompted talk of an England call up, which duly came in an international friendly against Ghana, in March.  Once again, though, the season ended on a disappointing note, as an injury in April forced a return to his parent club, for treatment.

Having watched Welbeck regularly when he played for Sunderland, I was both surprised and impressed.  He had a new-found presence, a directness and, seemingly, a belief in himself which, at times, had been missing when playing for United.  This was undoubtedly the result of being a key component, as opposed to a bit-part player, and also due to getting more games in his natural position.  I remember commenting that although Macheda played his way into our hearts with that goal against Villa, Welbeck had considerably more to his game.  When it was announced at the start of this season that there would be no loan spell for any of the young lads, I was excited to see what they could bring to the team.  So far Welbeck has surpassed all my expectations.

It's been a long time since Manchester United have had a convincing home-grown centre forward.  In my opinion Mark Hughes was the last one.  It seems like Danny Welbeck could be the man to finally end that drought.  Given how things have went so far this season, if we're to play 2 up front at Anfield, personally I think Welbeck should get the nod ahead of Hernandez, due to his superior all round game play.  If we're to avoid being overrun, as has happened the past couple of seasons at Anfield, I think it's imperative not to surrender possession cheaply, and I think Danny will do a better job of retaining it than Chich.  Of course I don't pick the team, so we'll leave that down to the genius from Govan.  

Let's hope that in many years to come, the last lines of the wonderful Stereophonics song ring true; "all the friends lay down the flowers, sit on the banks and drink for hours, talk of the days they saw him last, the local boy in the photograph."

By Tim Ferguson (Follow me on Twitter)

What are your thoughts on the progress of Danny Welbeck? Would you start him against Liverpool?

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