James Wilson: The Silver Lining to Danny Welbeck's Departure From Old Trafford

Chris Winterburn@Chriswin4Featured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 06:  James Wilson of Manchester United celebrates scoring the second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Hull City at Old Trafford on May 6, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The summer transfer deadline of 2014 was an uncharacteristically exciting one for Manchester United supporters. The long-awaited spending spree, which had been muted by John Edwards of the Daily Mail at the end of last season, had begun in earnest a week earlier with the arrival of British record signing Angel Di Maria—for a figure Mark Ogden of The Telegraph claims is around £59.7 million.

In a move right out of left field, Manchester United secured the one-year loan signing of Colombian forward Radamel Falcao with a reported option to purchase the player on a permanent basis next summer, according to BBC Sport's Simon Stone.

Whilst Manchester United supporters were notably excited by the arrival of a forward, who just 12 months ago was widely regarded as the absolute best natural striker in world football, there was a hint of quiet disappointment that youth academy graduate Danny Welbeck had to be sold to Arsenal to make room for Falcao.

Former Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live and described the departure of Welbeck as a change in Manchester United's way in the transfer market: "They have probably lost the way of Manchester United a little bit, now. Rather than produce, it may be the case where they are buying in. Someone like a Danny Welbeck has been part of United’s identity and that has been broken."

Welbeck, a popular figure amongst United's fanbase given his Longsight roots and hardworking attitude when on the pitch, will be a miss for Manchester United. However there is one silver lining to come from the disappointment of Welbeck's sale, and that is the introduction of 18-year-old James Wilson into Louis van Gaal's first-team setup.

James Ducker (subscription required) from The Times yesterday published a piece that detailed just why Welbeck felt he had to leave United. The 23-year-old had been told he was a fifth-choice forward for Van Gaal, behind the as yet unproven Wilson.

Robin van Persie echoed the reports of Wilson now being part of the first-team squad whilst conducting an interview on international duty, regarding the arrival of Falcao, as reported by The Guardian:

I welcome his arrival, he makes us better. At a top club you should always go for the best, which also fits my philosophy.

It is up to Falcao to fight for his place, as I have to as well. The two of us, plus Wayne Rooney and James Wilson, we must all fight it out to see who plays.

Wilson burst onto the scene as a debutant last May, scoring two goals against Hull City on his Premier League debut; however, those who had seen his rapid progression through the underage sides at Manchester United were not surprised in the slightest.

Andy Cole, a man who knows all about scoring goals at Old Trafford, said this of Wilson a few days ago when speaking to ManUtd.com's Adam Marshall:

I've got MUTV at home and it gives me the opportunity to watch the young players at Old Trafford and see how they're progressing. Wilson is definitely one for the future.

He scores goals and when you're doing that as a centre-forward at this football club, you always have half a chance.

He knows how to hit the back of the net. He finishes well and he's got a good left foot. He's very direct as well - he likes to pick it up and run at people. He'll have a big future.

One of Van Gaal's great successes with a young footballer has been a certain Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich. As soon as the Dutchman arrived in Bavaria he saw just what Muller had to offer and instantly promoted both him and fellow teammate Holger Badstuber into the first-team setup despite the pair being just 19 and 20 years old, respectively.

Wilson has a lot of the same qualities Muller possesses. The instinctive eye for goal, but perhaps more importantly, the eye for a run in behind before a defender can react.

We saw in the World Cup just how devastating Muller can be when given half a yard of space, perhaps even less. The German international times runs like very few forwards, he has an eye when to go and often it is just before a defender can react, and before you can blink, he is away with a scoring opportunity.

Wilson still has to hone this particular skill, but he has shown glimpses of it, and working closely with Van Gaal on a daily basis will improve the young forward.

Phelan's words on United's slipping identity were not incorrect, per se, but they were emotive.

The fact remains, Manchester United have 12 players in the season's 25-man Premier League squad who have all represented Manchester United at youth level.

Manchester United are in a difficult situation at present. The lack of Champions League football is a worry with the size of the record sponsorship deal with Adidas dependent on the club's return to Europe's top table, as per Mark Ogden of The Telegraph.

United need to return to the Champions League, and the likes of Falcao, Van Persie and Di Maria are the players required to achieve that. Despite his impressive levels of effort, Welbeck playing in a role on the wing is not.

The pressure United players are currently under is huge—particularly the younger players; for example, Tyler Blackett. This pressure impacts the freedom with which players try and play, and until United return to previous levels of quality and consistency, the more experienced and talented players such as Falcao will have to shoulder the burden.

This gives Wilson time to develop his game working with two of the best strikers in Europe and arguably one of the best coaches of young talent in Europe. His undoubted natural talent will shine through in time, and if United can return to the Champions League, Wilson will then have more chances to player in a less pressure-filled environment and make the progress his talent should allow.

Do not expect miracles right away, as Van Gaal has continually urged since the start of the season. However, with Wilson's chances of first-team football having increased, United fans should be excited about an 18-year-old who could become United's next great striker.


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