As Louis van Gaal begins his job as Manchester United manager, much attention will be on potential new signings and his superstar players, but could he have an unsung hero in the making in United academy product, Danny Welbeck?
By the end of David Moyes’ tenure at United, it looked like Welbeck’s time at Old Trafford might be drawing to a close, per Jamie Jackson in the Guardian.
The 23 year-old, who had been described by his England colleague Joe Hart, in an interview with Mark Bailey in the London Evening Standard as a "mad, mad, mad Manchester United fan," seemed finally to be considering a move away.
Although a beloved cult hero for a segment of the Old Trafford faithful, Welbeck is not universally respected by United fans, as the comments on this piece will no doubt show.
Whilst there are justifiable criticisms, largely around his final product, the idea that Welbeck is not a good player has always seemed wide of the mark.
When asked about United’s players ahead of the quarter-final of last season’s Champions league, Pep Guardiola included Welbeck in his list of "very good" players at United.
At the end of last season, as Sir Alex Ferguson prepared to leave his role as United manager, he said of Welbeck:
Last year he had 12 goals, this year he’s only got two, so that’s a big drop. But that drop doesn’t concern us because he still applies himself really well and still looks to score, still looks to get a chance and with that kind of courage he will eventually become a regular goalscorer.
Maybe he doesn’t appreciate us moving him around in various positions and we’ve maybe overused that because he is young. But his value to the club is there because I know he can do a job for me in any of those positions.
It’s a fantastic asset when you have a player who is as adaptable as that. But I think he will find his role through the middle once he gets that maturity and gets into a more consistent way of scoring.
Unsurprisingly given his status in the game, within the space of a paragraph Sir Alex provides a perfect summation of Welbeck's situation.
The oft-repeated criticisms of Welbeck's finishing are a slight misrepresentation of the problem. The issue is not with his technical ability as a finisher. The issue is with his status as a "goalscorer."
On the opening day of last season, Welbeck proved what an adept finisher he can be with a sumptuous chip over Michel Vorm into the Swansea net. Similarly, against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns in March this year, he capped off a fine United move with a confident, Thierry Henry-esque, sweep, past Ben Foster.
However, his infamous attempt to chip Manuel Neuer in the Bayern Munich goal when clean through was a big error in a big game.
Welbeck's errors often come when he has too much time to decide what to do. Again, the problem is not "finishing" per se, rather it is consistent goalscoring.
He is at his best when playing confidently and instinctively, as shown by his outstanding goal for England in Euro 2012, a spinning backheel of the very highest quality.
Welbeck also showed last season that his output improves when he is allowed a consistent run at centre-forward.
In his only clear run at the position last season, Welbeck excelled. Beginning with a brace against Aston Villa on 15th December 2013, he scored six goals in six league games.
So why does all this add up to his potential status as a secret weapon for Van Gaal?
There was a telling moment in Van Gaal's press conference yesterday. It was reported on Sky Sports that Van Gaal had said "Of course, I know the players but I don’t know the players until I have coached them."
Watching the press conference closely, however, Van Gaal actually said "of course I know the players, how they play, but I don't know the players who I have trained and coached."
He emphasised the "I" before "have trained and coached," as if he believed that his coaching would have the potential to improve the players in the current squad. Seeing the performances he brought out of his Dutch charges during the World Cup, it is easy to imagine that it could.
With that kind of improvement, Welbeck could make the position on the left of a 4-3-3 his own. Unlike the tactical role he has played on the left before, Welbeck would have ample chance in Van Gaal's 4-3-3 to find his best form in front of goal. It is a more overtly attacking role than he has played on the left for United previously.
Welbeck offers his new coach a phenomenal work rate, tactical flexibility and an as-yet untapped level of potential in front of goal that has been glimpsed, but never shown in its fullest light.
Van Gaal may well find a way to allow him to step into that light, and take centre stage. If he does, Welbeck may find himself talked about in the same way as his more illustrious colleagues. He could indeed become Van Gaal's secret weapon.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!