When Louis van Gaal sold Danny Welbeck to Arsenal, Manchester United fans and the media were up in arms. The lifelong United supporter, who had kissed the badge when scoring a late winner against Arsenal at the Emirates in the past, was supposed to be the future of the club.
While he still wasn’t consistently good enough, there was the hope that he could mature and develop in to a top player.
Not all United fans were on his side though. For every red who mentioned that great night at the Bernabeu when he scored, there were other who would remember how he cost us against Bayern Munich when flicking the ball straight to Neuer when one on one with the goalkeeper at Old Trafford. For every fan who talked up his potential, there were others who pointed to his goalscoring record and how he’d never been able to produce finishes on a regular basis.
Having joined United when he was just eight, he left the club as a 23-year-old, having scored 29 goals in 142 games.
Gary Neville couldn’t believe United had sold Welbeck and Mike Phelan was incredibly critical of the decision.
What will happen in the future now, nobody knows, but that thread has been broken now. There is always the start of something and maybe this is the start of a new way of doing things at Manchester United and maybe that is the way football is going.
Is it better to look at the instant rather than the future? It is a difficult one because youth is always the future. We all have to start somewhere and you just hope that product of youth can develop in the Premier League.
The following season, United played FC Midtjylland in the Europa League. Anthony Martial was set to start but an injury in the warm up meant that 18-year-old Marcus Rashford was called upon instead. He scored two goals that evening.
Three days later, he made his Premier League debut, with Martial still unavailable. Rashford scored twice against Arsenal in our 3-2 win.
Over the next few weeks he scored the winner against Manchester City at the Etihad, the winner away to West Ham, the winner against Aston Villa, among others. He was then called up to the national team as a result.
Still only 19, Rashford has scored 14 goals in 43 appearances for United. Nearly all of his games this season have come from a wider position, rather as a striker.
In contrast, Welbeck, who is now in his third season at Arsenal, has scored 13 goals in 49 games. He’s missed 13 months of competitive playing time with injury and returns from an injury that has kept him out all of this season today, for their FA Cup game against Preston.
Just think, if we hadn’t sold Welbeck, he would have played against FC Midtjylland, and Rashford may still just be a kid in our youth team with hopefully a bright future ahead.
I loved Welbeck and I was disappointed when he left. But there’s no doubt that Rashford has filled the Welbeck shaped hole in our hearts. He’s clearly the superior player, so we can be nothing but grateful that Arsenal were keen to take Welbeck off our hands which has allowed Rashford to flourish.
Plus, he’s only 235 goals away from becoming our joint all-time highest goalscorer.