The "new master" of Old Trafford Danny Welbeck, of Manchester United and England, showcases the new NIKE Sportswear collection designed and inspired by his club side.
Christmas is but a carol song away, when a doting father receives a phone call. It's from Manchester City, the club where his eight-year-old son has been training and dreaming of one day being a pro. Unfortunately it's bad news, they won't be taking his son on. Sorry and have a happy Christmas. The dad is distraught. How does he tell his son? In fact, should he tell his son or should he wait until January so as not to ruin the festivities? It's a dilemma that would have every dad losing sleep. But then again not every son is Danny Welbeck.
That Christmas, Welbeck senior did opt to wait but, in the New Year when passing on the bad news to his young boy, it became apparent that he needn't have worried. “Dad took me to one side,” recalls Welbeck thirteen years later. “He had this concerned look on his face and told me that City had called before Christmas and wouldn't be having me back. I was like, why didn't you just tell me dad, it's not a problem.”
With a shrug of the shoulders, the youngster simply went back to playing and got on with doing what came naturally. “I carried on at my club Fletcher Moss, scored a load more goals and soon I was at Manchester United.” He pauses and grins. “I never looked back.”
It's not a cocky grin, far from it. Welbeck is a softly spoken, polite young man. He is a credit to his family and his club but behind the niceties is a strong athlete, equipped with an inner steel and self-confidence that makes playing for Manchester United and England feel normal.
Being a fan and part of the set-up at United from such a young age means Welbeck is well versed on the club's long held ethos that always celebrates and embraces youthful vigor. If you are a good enough, you are old enough. “You know that the boss and the club are keen to give youth its chance and that gives the lads such a lift,” says Welbeck.
“It goes back to the Busby Babes who did their stuff in the 1950's and that history is ingrained in the place. When you sign your scholarship you are taken around the club, you visit the museum, you are taught about the history and the young lads benefit from knowing what the place is about.”
“I grew up idolising the class of 1992; the guys I came through the ranks with took great inspiration from them. To suddenly be there sharing a pitch and a dressing-room with some of them is incredible.”
It didn't take long for Welbeck's elder first team colleagues to realise that their new young striker was there to do more than just meet his heroes. In 2008, coming on as a sub against Stoke at Old Trafford in the 63rd minute, it took only twenty minutes before he played a one-two forty yards from goal, carried the ball forward and unleashed an exocet of a shot into the top corner in front of the Stretford End. How did that feel? “Indescribable”.
Another thing Welbeck finds it hard to shed light on is the moment as a boy that he realised he was actually very good at his sport, the instant he realised that moments like that first goal at Old Trafford would be common place. “I was just into playing football, I wanted to play. I loved it. I guess I did get the ball and just run through everyone sometimes and score, but it just felt normal.”
Welbeck's brother Chris, who is accompanying him on the shoot, is able to shed some light on the moment he knew that his sibling was extra special. “It was an FA Youth Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 2007. Danny was two years younger than most of the others and the team were losing at Old Trafford. Danny stepped up, made one and scored the winner. I sat in the stands and thought, he's going to do this, he's going to go all the way.”
For Welbeck, those skills would have to be matched by patience as his Manager chose to first send him on loan in early 2010, where he suffered injury, before sending him away again, this time further afield to the North-East where he spent the entire 2010-11 season.
That's where that inner steel came once again to the fore. Some youngsters might have taken two stints out on loan as a sign they weren't rated or wanted. Not Welbeck. “I took it as a positive. If you go away feeling down, you won't do well so I got on with it and felt I did well. Last season was great for me. I got loads of Premier League experience and it felt good.”
“I had never been away from mum and dad, and there I am miles away from home, in a new city and I had to fend for myself. I learnt to cook and clean. I guess you could say I grew up. My cooking wasn't that good at first but soon it got OK. Having said that I am back home now and it's back to mum's cooking!”
That ‘glass half-full’ outlook on life has served him well. He's back in the United team as an integral part of an exciting, young squad but is also interesting the England manager who will be pleased to have fresh, positive players around a new squad; players unscathed by the perceived failures of the past.
Welbeck is certainly excited by his first steps into the international arena. “The youth is getting its chance and quality players are showing themselves to be up to it. I don't think this crop will look back, and it is so exciting to be a part of it.” But isn't he worried that like those before him, a new set of talented players will be burdened by such hyperbole as the previous ‘Golden Generation’?
“There are always expectations and you have to deal with them. Don't focus on them, just play your normal game and feel at home.”
Wise words but Welbeck is quick to point out that his success so far means very little and that he is a young man still learning his trade. He is keen to adapt, to get better and be every bit the modern striker. “I don't want to be a static centre-forward who just sniffs out goals in the six-yard box. I see the game moving on, I need to have movement, be a player who can stretch defences.”
“I like to be mobile. I have played on the wing so I like to drift and make space for my teammates. I don't want to just score goals, I want to create chances for my team and hopefully I am. I can drop off, move wide, link up.”
Literally thinking outside the box has to be a help to a young striker who everyday works with some of the finest goal getters in the game. “Shooting practice is quality. Every ball is in the corner and as one of the young players you want to match that and prove you belong.”
And what of his manager? Once a striker. Does he still know where the goal is? “The boss doesn't join in anymore but he's always telling us what a great goalscorer he was.” If Welbeck has anything to do with it, you sense that the Manager will soon be telling everyone what a great goalscorer he has too.
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