Days after Danny Welbeck was first linked with a move away from Manchester United, David Moyes was sacked. Coincidence? I think not.
Getting embarrassed by our rivals, failing to qualify for the Champions League, employing dire football, showing little to no tactical nous and dithering over transfer targets might be the popular understanding for why Moyes lost his job, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that upsetting our Danny meant the former Everton boss had taken it one step too far. Given a choice between Danny and Dave, the Glazers didn’t have a moment’s hesitation, although had to wait for the defeat at Goodison Park so that the media couldn’t criticise the club for being petty. The press just wouldn’t understand.
Our Danny from Longsight, who grew up supporting United, playing football on the street with Wes Brown, somehow manages to divide United fans.
Welbeck was 8-years-old when we won the European Cup in 1999, 15 years ago yesterday. “I was in the front room watching with my family,” he said. “The celebrations were mental. I think the whole street went wild!”
I wonder how many players at City or Chelsea hadn’t even heard of the club that pays their wages when they were 8, yet here was our Danny watching us win the European Cup on the telly with his family in Manchester, going mental. How could anyone not want a player like that in their squad?
Ok, fine, so Moyes didn’t lose his job for making Welbeck unhappy, but his inability to recognise how important it is to have players like Danny at the club certainly should have gone as a mark against him.
“We had a word with him about a month ago and said he needs to be the last off the training field,” Moyes said in December. “Wayne Rooney is out there practicing his free-kicks, his finishing and shooting from tight angles every day. Danny needs to be out there, even if it’s 15 minutes at the end. The young boys here are educated to keep improving and practicing. Sometimes, without knowing, you can slip away from it.”
It was surprising to hear that sort of assessment of Welbeck. The suggestion was he wasn’t trying as hard as he should be and that his performances were suffering because of it.
“I was pretty surprised, to be honest,” Welbeck said this week, when asked about Moyes’ comments. “I’ve grown up at Manchester United and been professional all through my career and I always do extra work. It’s born and bred in me to do extra work after training. He came out with that statement but, before then, I had been doing extra training. Maybe he just didn’t see it.”
In less than four weeks over the Christmas period, Welbeck played in six league games as a striker, filling in for the injured Robin van Persie. He scored six goals. Last month, stats were published showing the strike rate of players in the league, not including penalties. Three players stood out, and it was no surprise all three of them played for teams competing for the title. When looking at how many goals they had scored per 90 minutes, Sergio Aguero had 1.06, Luis Suarez had 1, and Daniel Sturridge had 0.87. The fourth most efficient striker was Welbeck, with 0.64 goals per 90 minutes.
But for much of the season, Welbeck was played out of position, just as he had the season before for Sir Alex Ferguson, and when he was used up front, he wasn’t given a regular run there.
There’s no denying that Welbeck’s development has been hampered by the fact he has stuck it out playing for United, all the while falling behind other strikers in pecking order. When those players were his age they were given the opportunity to play in their preferred position week in week out, whilst Welbeck has sacrificed that vital experience just so he could wear our shirt.
There has to reach a point though where enough is enough. We have a striker on our hands who, when played regularly up front, scores a lot of goals. We have a striker who, even when played out of position for large chunks of the season, still manages one of the best strike rates in the league. When you consider he has achieved that whilst playing for the best 7th best performing team in the country, it really is something that should impress people.
It doesn’t though. Because for every fantastic (and wrongly disallowed) goal he may score, like the one against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford, there’s a shocking lack of judgement, like that easily saveable effort against Manuel Neuer when playing Bayern Munich at Old Trafford. Whether your glass is half full or empty will determine your opinion of Welbeck. But if you want a player with better judgement, who makes the right decision with his final touch, you need to put him in those situations on a regular basis. Of course, a lot of what makes a top quality striker is instinct, but you don’t become world class without the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.
For me, I see a young player, with loads of potential, who could do a job for United if regularly played up front. A young player who loves the club. A young player who, when watching from the bench, sees a player who is occupying his position in the team score a wonder goal, and goes as bonkers as the United fans in the away end.
But how much longer can we expect him to stay at United when he isn’t being allowed to become the player he knows he is capable of becoming? Why should he have to play on the left wing when he knows he can be a decent centre forward elsewhere?
“You want to play in a certain position and you’re not getting the opportunity to do that,” he said this week. “It’s the same for everyone else when they are being played out of position and they don’t really like it. It depends what formation we are playing. On the left of a four-man midfield there are a lot more defensive duties so you can’t find the time to keep attacking. But if you’re on the left of a 4-3-3, I find that position really good. I can play in any formation but, if I play on the left, I’d rather play there if there are three in midfield.”
Louis van Gaal is famed for giving the young players at his team’s a chance and I would love to see Welbeck given some serious playing time as a striker next season. I hope he can just give it one more year to see if the new manager sees something in him. Then, fine, if he isn’t being played where he wants to we should wish him all the best at his next club, if he wants to move on.
But time is against us. Asked directly this week whether he could clarify that he still wanted to leave, he replied: “I’d rather not answer that question.” Like a dagger to heart. Please don’t go, Danny.