On Friday morning, reports suggested that Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal had told Danny Welbeck that he could leave the club. During his press conference, Van Gaal was typically evasive in his answer about Welbeck’s future. At no point, however, did van Gaal suggest that Welbeck had a future at the club. All that is clear is that LVG, Giggs and Welbeck had a conversation about where his future lies.
At 23, Welbeck feels that it is time for him to play regular football. His rise into the first team is truly a story of soccer romance. Born to Ghanaian parents, Welbeck grew up in the Manchester area and paid his dues. He succeeded at the academy level and spent some time away on loan. He then scored an incredible long-range goal on his Premier League debut against Sunderland, and United fans knew they had a new academy-lad to rally around (along with Kiko Macheda). Since then, he has had some highs and lows, but it seems that Van Gaal cannot guarantee the first team football that Welbeck desires (and arguably deserves). Club allegiances aside, Welbeck’s purported move away from United makes sense. Here’s why:
1. Welbeck is competing for positions with Van Persie, Rooney and Chicharito
Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney are the marquee players in this United side, and as such, are immovable objects. Both players are creative, excellent finishers, set-piece takers and leaders of the side. Therefore, it becomes virtually impossible for Welbeck to replace them, unless injury forces Van Gaal’s hand. Chicharito, on the other hand, has attributes that leave many Manchester United players (and fans) frustrated. The Mexican’s first touch, hold-up play and passing are often disappointing, and these are areas that Welbeck excels in. However, Chicharito provides a different sort of player that every manager loves – an out-and-out finisher. Welbeck’s greatest assets are his pace and workrate. His goal return has been miserly – some of that due to his deployment off the wings. Therefore, given that Rooney and Van Persie are the finished article as forwards, and Chicharito is a fantastic alternate option, it seems Welbeck is the player in the wilderness.
2. The formation does not suit Welbeck
With United playing a 3-5-2, Welbeck cannot play in the position Sir Alex Ferguson deployed him in – as an inside winger. As made clear earlier, his opportunities as a center forward are limited. It could be argued that playing as a wing back would suit Welbeck’s style. He has the physical prowess and the work rate for it. Certainly the wing back role resurrected Raheem Sterling (and possibly Ashley Young’s career), but it would be unfair for Welbeck to curb his attacking instincts further. If Welbeck wishes to play as a striker, a move away from Old Trafford might be most appropriate.
3. The potential signing of Angel Di Maria
Reports out of Spain are suggesting that the unsettled Argentinean star is Manchester bound. If the transfer materializes, it further diminishes opportunities for Welbeck. At that point, United would most likely switch to a 4-2-3-1, forcing Welbeck to compete for places on the bench – with the likes of Janujaz and Kagawa.
4. Other academy players are coming through in his position
Will Keane, Tom Lawrence and especially James Wilson are looking to stake a claim to first team football. Alongside forgotten man Nick Powell and emerging Jesse Lingard, these players are training with the first team, and it suggests that Van Gaal may use them at some point (possibly in the upcoming League Cup tie against MK Dons). These young players will be more amenable to a bit-part role; something Welbeck will not be willing to accept.
Many Manchester United fans are understandably upset at the news of Welbeck leaving. Welbeck is the first academy-bred forward, in many years, to have had a chance of making at the club. The casualty list is long – Daniel Nardiello, Danny Webber, Joshua King, Frazier Campbell, Kiko Macheda, etc. – have all shown promise but found careers elsewhere. Videos of a gangly 13-year old Danny Welbeck learning his trade from Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy and John O’Shea, during training, remind fans of the success story we would love to see. However, it seems that this story may be coming to an end. If it does, I wish him nothing but success in his career. Welbz will always be loved.