Manchester United's Welbeck Comes of Age

Two years ago he was cast adrift but a goal and an audacious back heel against Spurs prove Danny boy is flying high.
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Two years ago he was cast adrift but a goal and an audacious back heel against Spurs prove Danny boy is flying high.

Mancunian-born, lifelong United fan, at the Stretford End, off the head, into the net. As Danny Welbeck opened the scoring at Old Trafford he sealed it with a kiss of the badge to further endear him to supporters, some who had once questioned his temperament to make the grade at the club.

To say the jury is still out is harsh on Welbeck, although drawing any conclusions after a bright start to his new era at United would be a knee-jerk. He’s had a lot of growing up to do since suffering the ignominy of being outcast following January 2010’s humiliating FA Cup third round exit to then-League One side – and sworn enemy – Leeds, but he’s undeniably making headway.

On that day, to coin Tommy Docherty’s phrase, he trapped a ball farther than he could kick it, was constantly ineffectual and belied the theory that man could enable a ball to elevate. Supporters cut him a generous slice of slack for being inadvisably banished to the wing when he’s a striker, but it was impossible to defend a product of a reputable academy who failed to execute the basic prerequisites of a footballer. Especially one who had played in a Wembley cup final and semi-final in the same position before his nineteenth birthday.

At Sunderland, Welbeck filled out and has returned south to Manchester a more physically imposing front-man.

A brief loan spell at Ferguson Junior’s then-club Preston North End was fruitless (two goals in eight games) and arguably rash treatment given that he was comfortably adequate enough for a Premier League side. But the January deadline loomed and it appeared a convenient and rushed deal, with the rain pouring on Welbeck’s new year via a knee injury in February which ruled him out for the remainder of the 2009/10 season.

Just over a year on however, he’s keeping Dimitar Berbatov – United’s top scorer last season – out of the first team. Ferguson will take the bulk of the credit for his bright start to the season but praise should be reserved for Steve Bruce at Sunderland for honing this bright English spark. At Sunderland, Welbeck filled out and has returned south to Manchester a more physically imposing front-man, having benefitted from the occasional mid-to-bottom of the table last resort of the long ball. Although he notched just six goals in 28 appearances for Sunderland, he was playing second-fiddle to Darren Bent and then Asamoah Gyan and from a selfish perspective, was merely honing his own durability in the Premier League.

His pace has always been a potent asset and it is his energy and telepathy to match the tempo set by United’s marauding wingers and the incisive Wayne Rooney which has seen him supersede the more ponderous Berbatov. In the first-half against Spurs however, he was culpable of the most negative positive trait in football; trying too hard. His awareness was lacking and invariably he required more time to reach the same wavelength as his colleagues. He oozed pugnacity and eagerness, but United missed the cool composure of Berbatov retaining the ball amidst the frenetic pace.

United were taught a footballing lesson (again) by Barcelona and it appears no coincidence that their own football brand appears determined to mimic the Catalonian kings.

Whatever was said at half-time worked, however. Welbeck was much more relaxed and the tenacious intent in his game was patent as his final-third decision-making improved before Tom Cleverley provided an inch-perfect cross which enabled the Mancunian to score his second Premier League goal since his league debut at the same end against Stoke almost three years ago.

In May, United were taught a footballing lesson (again) by Barcelona and it appears no coincidence that their own football brand appears determined to mimic the Catalonian kings. Welbeck’s sumptuous back-heel to assist Anderson was of that quality, and more gratifying than his goal for it embodied the calm awareness and maturity he now possesses in pressure situations. Heartening for the doubters, credible ammunition for his faithful devotees.

He predictably received the man of the match award for his eye-catching contribution even though it should have been Rooney’s, but the recognition Welbeck has received is a timely fillip despite the fact that he has never been short of self-belief
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