“I am a massive fan of Danny’s,” gushed Michael Carrick ahead of England’s World Cup fixture with Poland in Warsaw on Tuesday night. The man in question: Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck, who is fresh from scoring an international double against San Marino at Wembley last week. Welbeck, who has started six times in 10 international matches under England manager Roy Hodgson, scored a wonderfully improvised back-heel against Sweden at Euro 2012, followed by Friday night’s brace to launch an international career into the mainstream.
Indeed, the international break has offered the Longsight-born forward some welcome minutes on the pitch, with Welbeck having slipped behind £24 million Robin van Persie in United’s striking pecking order this season. Five starts, and as many from the bench, have brought WElbeck no goals for Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, following a dozen in the previous campaign.
It leaves the striker respected by colleagues, wanted by his national manager, but partly marginalised at club level, in what had promised to be a strong second full season in Ferguson’s outfit.
“He has been terrific,” adds Carrick, who has been brought back into the international fold, and could start in Warsaw at club-mate Tom Cleverley’s expense.
“Ever since I first saw him I have expected big things of him. He has had a terrific couple of years. People were looking at him when we signed van Persie saying, ‘Where is his position, where is he going to fit in?’ But he showed he is still a major part of it and he was terrific against San Marino.
“If he keeps performing like that he is only going to get better. He can create and score goals. He can play different positions, he can play wide, he can play up top – he is a real talent. He is modest too, what you’d expect coming through the ranks at United. The manager sets standards for the young lads and Danny doesn’t get carried away and this won’t change him at all. He just gets back and starts working hard again and that is what he does best – that is one of his biggest assets.”
That work rate will be tested in the weeks ahead, with van Persie having scored seven times in nine games this season and Wayne Rooney back to full fitness. Moreover, with Ferguson having switched to a ‘wingless’ diamond midfield in recent matches, Welbeck’s chances have also been limited in wide areas for club, if not country.
Baring further injury to Rooney, who missed a month of the season with a serious gash, or van Persie, then Welbeck is likely to remain on Ferguson’s bench for the time being – at least for many of United’s most prominent matches this season.
It is a situation that leaves Welbeck’s flourishing England career somewhat incongruent, although the forward’s double last week is not guaranteed to keep the 21-year-old striker in Hodgson’s side, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Jermain Defoe available. Demotion to the bench, if it comes at all, will surelyreflect less on the United youngster’s talents than the need for experience in a testing away fixture.
Welbeck’s strikes against San Marino brings his total to four in 12 matches for England, while Defoe now has 17 in half a century of caps over close to a decade of international football. Indeed, if Defoe’s international career is now into its autumn years, with the striker having turned 30 earlier this month, then Welbeck’s is just beginning.
It is a marginal call for the often conservative Hodgson, although Welbeck’s relationship with Rooney, which flourished at club level last season, may tip the balance in favour of the Mancunian on Tuesday, especially with England’s manager looking two years hence to the World Cup in Brazil.
“I’m used to playing with Wazza up front at United,” pitched Welbeck on Monday. “I’m really relishing the chance to play with him for England. Once we get into positions in and around the box, we know different styles of combinations to play.”
The striker has also formed a strong bond with club team-mate Cleverley, who provided assists for both Welbeck’s goals at Wembley. Welbeck, like, Cleverley, has been with the United academy since childhood; both coming through into the national set-up during Hodgson’s reign.
“We have known each other for many years now,” said Cleverley.
“I’ve been there since I was 11. He’s been there since he was nine. So we’ve built up a relationship over the years, on and off the pitch. I feel comfortable playing with him and he’s a good lad as well. His movement, his touch, finishing, pace and power are top class. He’s got everything.”
The lavish praise is far removed from Welbeck’s early years with United; a gangling kid, often deployed on the wing, unsure of movement or first touch. And Welbeck will need to demonstrate that his physical attributes are matched by those of a technical nature, especially in front of goal, if the striker is to further flourish for club and country.
After all, criticism of the forward’s strike-rate is prominent – four in 12 for England is mirrored by 17 in 73 at club level for United.
Neither statistic can, for example, match van Persie’s strike rate for United this season, nor at Arsenal in the campaign just concluded, although it is instructive that the Dutchman struck just 21 times in all competitions for the norther Londoners in his first two full seasons.
In that there remains a positive role model for the younger man, even if Ferguson is loath to proffer Welbeck more minutes while van Persie and Rooney remain fit. And if games at Old Trafford are rare it is Welbeck’s patience, and perhaps his international credentials, that will come under the microscope for the time being.