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The Evolution of Manchester United's Danny Welbeck

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The Evolution of Manchester United's Danny Welbeck
Kirsty Wigglesworth

Danny Welbeck is every club's dream.

From Real Madrid to Rotherham, they are all aiming to produce what Danny Welbeck has achieved at Manchester United

A United fan raised a matter of miles away from Old Trafford, he was first spotted by scouts as a six-year-old.

He has come through the academy to become part of the first-team squad. He's played his part in teams that have won the League Cup and Premier League title. He's played for England and, barring injury, will go to the World Cup in Brazil this summer.

He's impressed Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson enough that they continued to put him in their teams. It's quite a compliment given the players that have come before him.

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Welbeck is evidence of both the ups and downs of being an academy graduate. The United fans are desperate for their Manchester lad, born in Longsight, to do well.

That goes for the coaches too, and he's perhaps been afforded more opportunities because he's a homegrown player. Ferguson, in particular, was always fiercely protective if he thought Welbeck was the subject of a negative line of questioning.

But with the pros come the cons. And it has often felt like he has been held to a higher standard by fans suspicious of his talent because he wasn't signed for £20 million.

Welbeck is learning on the job. And with every flash of skill or clever finish will come a great deal more frustration. A loose pass or heavy first touch.

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It's the same with every young player that has come through at United, indeed at every club. Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt were all part of the squad that won the treble in 1999. 

But all of them went through spells where they received criticism when they first broke through. Giggs couldn't cross, they said. Beckham didn't have enough pace for a wide midfielder.

Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher have been through the same more recently. Evans has only just started to come out the other side.

Tom Cleverley is experiencing it now. Like Welbeck, he's an England international, but there are lots of United fans who remain unconvinced. All he can do is hope that one day he makes those same supporters feel ridiculous for doubting him.

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Welbeck has been around the first team a little longer than Cleverley and, because of that, is further along with the process of winning over the supporters.

He's come a long way already. He announced himself as a 17-year-old with a stunning goal on his Premier League debut against Stoke City in 2008.

Since then his hair has got bigger, but so has his confidence and, more importantly, his maturity.

Picked to start against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu last season, he upstaged Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. In the return leg at Old Trafford, he kept Rooney out of the team.

The statistics show that last season he scored just two goals in 40 appearances. But there's no asterisk to show that he spent most of the season playing as a wide midfielder.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Given a run of games up front this season in the absence of Rooney and Van Persie, he scored six in six games in the Premier League over Christmas and New Year. 

His goals against Aston Villa and Swansea were instinctive first-time finishes, chances he looks far more comfortable with than when he's got the time to think about it.

Still only 23, Welbeck has already experienced the best and worst of being an academy graduate in his short career. He has won trophies for the club he grew up supporting but taken a lot of criticism for his performances, too.

He can at least take heart that others have been through the same and that he's following in the footsteps of players who have gone on to become some of the best in the world.

For now, all Welbeck has do to is keep impressing Moyes and Hodgson. The adulation, admiration and acceptance from the fans can wait.

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