In the wake of a promising-yet-ultimately disappointing European Championships, Danny Welbeck emerged as one of the hottest properties in English football. His penchant for exquisite touches and deft flicks drew admiring glances from the nation’s luckless supporters and even provided the icing on the cake in the impressive comeback against Sweden.
However, just like your typical X-Factor winner, Welbeck has so far failed to build on last season’s success and is currently wallowing in the shadows of the most formidable strike partnership in the league. His fall from grace has even prompted a few tabloid murmurs that are questioning his future at Old Trafford.
The arrival of Robin van Persie at Manchester United saw him immediately establish a budding relationship with talisman Wayne Rooney. Welbeck must have felt betrayed, as if forced to watch an ex-lover enjoy a far more productive sex life with a new partner. Even when an opportunity to worm his way back into contention has arisen, the prolific Javier Hernandez has repeatedly outperformed him.
The gulf that separates Welbeck from a place in the starting line-up increases by the day. There is no denying his ability on the ball or his unrelenting energy levels but his clinical nature in front of goal is surpassed by all three of his United team-mates. He can’t even claim the coveted title of ‘super sub’, having only scored one goal in 20 appearances this term compared to Chicharito’s nine in 18.
Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted that the 22 year-old must remain patient and pointed at the treble-winning strikeforce – Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – as evidence that every striker in his squad has an important role to play.
“The important thing is that they feel as though they are making a contribution over the course of the season.”
“That is what the four of them did in 1999.” (Telegraph)
While Cole and Yorke shared a prominent partnership in the league, it was the impact of both Sheringham and Solskjaer, which helped the club secure both the F.A Cup and Champions League. As a celebrated product of the club’s youth academy, Welbeck will be well aware of such historic moments and therefore his possible significance at the climax of the season.
Welbeck’s main strength is his versatility, having demonstrated he is capable of playing on either flank when his favoured central role is occupied. His youthful exuberance and ability to hold-up the ball make him the perfect outlet in a team that always looks to break quickly. He is certainly an intriguing option, but perhaps one that is best utilised from the bench.
There has to come a time when Welbeck must adopt a selfish approach to further his career, especially considering how Daniel Sturridge’s development has been hampered as a result of being shuffled out onto the touchline. Newcastle’s Papiss Cisse has also struggled with his new supporting role for Demba Ba, which has seen his name fade from the score sheet.
The sole saving grace of Welbeck’s season has been his form on international duty. He has thrived under Roy Hodgson, climbing above the more experienced Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll in the pecking order. However, Welbeck possesses a far greater competition for places at club level and will undoubtedly be wary of the presence of hungry young starlets Nick Powell and Ángelo Henríquez.
His current ambiguous situation mirrors that of Manchester-born Andy Ritchie, who represented the Red Devils during the late 70s and early 80s. As a fellow youth-team graduate, Ritchie pierced through into the senior squad only to be impeded by the big-money signing of Garry Birtles.
Ritchie was forced to depart the club at the tender age of 20 in search of first-team football, but he believes that Welbeck won’t have to resort to such drastic measures, thanks to the four-year deal he signed in August.
“They don’t give contracts out lightly at Manchester United and won’t offer you one that long if they don’t think you are good enough” (Manchester Evening News)
Ferguson will have undoubtedly reassured his young striker of his potential on numerous occasions, but in age where the cream of the crop are establishing themselves after fewer and fewer birthdays, just how long can Welbeck be satisfied playing second fiddle rather than centre-forward?