England in focus: In defence of Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck, at odds of 14/1 to be The Three Lions top scorer in Brazil, may have to be concerned for his place in England’s plans, with the tide of public opinion pushing against him.
Heading to the finals, Welbeck finds himself in the most unusual of positions for a young English forward, being painfully underrated by the Three Lions fans and media.
Meanwhile, after their sparkling domestic form this season, the clamour for the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley to be in the starting XI, alongside whoever else has become flavour of the month, has intensified.
If these additions were to be made at the unfashionable Welbeck’s expense, it would be difficult to argue that any of the above mentioned were not deserving of their starting spot. However, with the 23-year old’s recent record of three goals in six appearances for England’s side, and eight goals in 22 appearances overall, an argument surely has to be made for him not to be discarded just yet.
However, it is not these impressive stats that should endear him to the Three Lions faithful, as it is small details in the young Mancunian’s all-round game that ignite the imagination. Deft back-heel flicks in and around the box, an ability to knock the ball past a seasoned defender such as Ashley Cole, breaking away with such blistering pace he was left clutching his hamstring.
His sheer passion for the cause will often find him harrying opposition late into the final minutes of a game already won, stealing the ball away and sprinting the forward to spring one final attack. However, it is this willingness to sacrifice himself, along with his versatility, that may see the forward on the bench for both club and country.
It is easy to forget that the boy from Longsight, reared at Manchester United from the age of eight, following rejection from Manchester City, was once viewed as exciting a talent as any of the Merseyside maestros.
Bursting onto the scene at Old Trafford against Stoke City in 2008, Welbeck unleashed a scorching shot into the top-hand corner. The youngster was subsequently reprimanded for his Cantona-esque collar-up celebration, but it was a debut goal that any of this England squad would be proud to claim as their own. It was also an indication of the type of quality finishes Welbeck has shown he is more than capable of producing in subsequent seasons, with exquisite goals against Sweden, Belgium, Manchester City, Everton and Swansea City springing to mind.
For both England and United, Welbeck has already proven himself to be the clichéd “big game player”, regularly out-performing superstar names on the most important of stages.
This is illustrated by both Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes’ confidence to play him in all of The Red Devil’s European crunch ties over the past two seasons.
Ferguson famously selected Welbeck ahead of the often cumbersome Wayne Rooney in the Manchester team’s visit to the Bernabeu and Real Madrid, in the 2012/13 season. The controversial decision proved to be correct, as Welbeck made a constant nuisance of himself with an energetic performance behind Robin van Persie, and was the only United player to get on the scoresheet.
Welbeck put in a similarly high level of performance this season, in United’s make or break Champions League games against Olympiakos and Bayern Munich. After an inspirational game against the Greeks this March, his contribution was overlooked in place of Van Persie’s headline-grabbing hat-trick.
The following month, against Bayern Munich in the first leg at Old Trafford in April, Welbeck was one of the sides most dangerous and influential players. It is unfortunate that a sublime goal scored in the first few moments was disallowed, and his contribution to the game will mainly be remembered for the following fluffed chance. An indication of how Welbeck’s reputation has suffered due to football’s fine margins, not lack of talent.
Perhaps more importantly, in an England shirt the striker has been one of the most consistent performers of Hodgson’s reign. Stepping up to the plate in Rooney’s absence at the beginning of Euro 2012 and converting a Walcott cross into the net with a delicate back-heel, Welbeck used the tournament to establish himself in the line-up. Certainly, as England exited against Italy, the decision to substitute the versatile forward seemed a poor decision in hindsight, as the effervescent Andrea Pirlo regained a foothold in the match without anyone snapping at his heels.
Instead of demoting Welbeck, at odds of 5/4 to start against Ecuador, hopefully Hodgson will utilise his pace, work-rate, intelligence and build up play in tandem with the exciting newcomers to the squad. Perhaps by the end of the World Cup, Rooney will be the striker looking over his shoulder.