I wrote the words that follow at 2am on Tuesday 2nd September, 3 hours after the transfer window slammed shut and after more than a couple of drinks. They were edited when I woke up, sober and decidedly more rational.
I was in high school when I first heard the name Danny Welbeck. My English teacher’s son went to school with “a lad who plays for United.” She informed me that her son didn’t think that Welbeck was very good. I didn’t know it at the time but I do now – he was wrong. It would be 2 years before Welbeck made the first of 142 appearances for the first-team, starting up front in a 3-1 League Cup victory over Middlesborough. Later that year he marked his first Premier League start with a beautiful 30-yard strike against Stoke City. He was one of us and he was living our dream.
Our club’s identity is shaped by those who embody it. Players who ‘get it’, Danny Welbeck is a prime example of that. Born and raised in Longsight by parents who had emigrated from Ghana 10 years before his birth. Welbeck was brought up with inherently religious values but at the age of eight he swapped church for the Theatre of Dreams. Like me, he grew up during the Class of ’92 era and it is fair to say he worshiped the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes long before they became his team mates.
On Monday Daniel Nii Tackie Mensah Welbeck left Manchester United, the club he been a part of for 15 years. It is a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of fans, especially when you consider his destination was Arsenal. The arch-nemesis to the Manchester United of Welbeck’s youth. Radamel Falcao’s signing was announced 30 minutes after the England striker’s departure but it is hard to feel anything but apathy. Staring with bleary eyes at a picture of Falcao holding a red shirt, the image of Danny in the red of another club burning into the back of my retina. But it is for the best, isn’t it?
“When the ball went in, that feeling… if that feeling was a drug I would be dead!” Welbeck said of his first United goal. There would be 29 more hits but truth be told the player wasn’t getting his fix regularly enough. Often played out of position or left on the bench he struggled to find his rhythm. Strikers run on confidence, a good run in the side is the only way to build that confidence, but with Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and now Falcao in front of him opportunities would be few and far between at Manchester United. Still, often lazily dismissed as a poor goalscorer 20 goals in 53 Premier League starts suggest otherwise.
Opinions were always divided. There were those who saw his potential and those who believed he was never good enough. However, at 23 in order to fulfill that potential he needs to be playing first-team football, week-in-week-out, in his favoured position. Under David Moyes last season it was reported the player had handed in a transfer request, his frustrations had reached their limit, he wanted to start in a central role. Injuries to Rooney and Van Persie allowed him his chance and six goals in six games over the Christmas period went some way to answering his critics.
We’ll likely never know whether Welbeck could’ve gone on to be the Manchester United striker many were willing him to become but we will find out if that potential can be developed. Over recent years he’s grown into his awkward frame, keeping his pace, refining his technique and adding strength. Comparisons have been drawn to Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge, who given responsibility and opportunity, has gone on to become a prolific centre forward, following years of mediocrity. Arsene Wenger has a penchant for turning wingers into word-class forwards and while I’m not suggesting Danny Welbeck is the next Thierry Henry or Robin van Persie, he’s in very capable hands.
I wish Danny all the best at Arsenal, I’m certain most United fans do. Hopefully he seizes his opportunity and shows us what we’re missing. I look forward to him returning to Old Trafford for our last home game of the season, where I’m sure he’ll be given the warmest of receptions. Let’s just hope he won’t enjoy it too much.
I write with a heavy heart but it’s for purely sentimental reasons I wish the transfer hadn’t happened. I trust in our manager’s vision and if it is felt that a youth product isn’t good enough for our first-team then I accept that. For now we abandon sentiment, our objective is success. Sections of media may be reporting that our heart has been ripped out but it hasn’t. We’ll never die.