If Danny Welbeck needed any further motivation to show Manchester United just how wrong they were—that is, if being allowed to leave the club he joined as a nine-year-old had not provided enough—then Louis van Gaal gave the 23-year-old it in spades on Thursday.
Speaking at the unveiling of Daley Blind and Radamel Falcao, the latter the man who had ostensibly replaced Welbeck, Van Gaal pulled few punches in stating why the Englishman had been allowed to leave.
According to Daniel Taylor in The Guardian, Van Gaal said:
I have given all the players a chance to convince me of their qualities.
Yes, Danny Welbeck was here from when he was nine. He has played, after [his loan at] Sunderland, three seasons at Manchester United but he doesn’t have the record of [Robin] Van Persie or [Wayne] Rooney and that is the standard.
That is why we let him go—because of Falcao but also the youngsters who can fit in.
Not only was Welbeck not up to United’s standards, then, he was not even as good as some of the other youngsters coming through (presumably James Wilson, who has already been praised by Van Gaal).
The Dutchman’s assessment puts him at odds with Sir Alex Ferguson, who always admired the forward’s potential, along with his temperament.
“We were always aware of Danny Welbeck’s ability,” Ferguson said in 2012, as the forward was enjoying his first full season at the club. “In terms of judging young players, I don’t think we’ve ever failed in that respect.”
Van Gaal evidently does not agree (and, it could be suggested, United’s current woes remain in part a product of Ferguson’s sentimental attachment to players and a system he should perhaps have changed sooner).
By also selling Welbeck to Arsenal—who should, in theory, have the same ambitions as United—Van Gaal has doubled down on his judgement, happy to let Welbeck try to prove him wrong at a rival.
Welbeck has not just been discarded, he has been dismissed. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to that.
His two goals for England against Switzerland were a good sign, the start of him delivering on his insistence that, with a run of games in a central position, he can score goals on a regular basis. But it is Arsenal who have paid £16 million for him to score goals, in the process giving him around three months (until Olivier Giroud returns from injury) to demonstrate his credentials.
That starts against Manchester City on Saturday.
Just over 24 hours later, Falcao will likely make his debut for United against QPR—a game that, on the face of it at least, would appear to be a great chance for the Colombian to get off the mark early.
Both players offer different attributes and dimensions to their respective sides, explaining in part why one was allowed to leave Old Trafford and the other was quickly brought in.
It will be interesting to see whether they both prosper; if Van Gaal’s decision is vindicated or if Welbeck goes on to prove the quality Ferguson always saw in him. The two are not mutually exclusive, but this weekend will make the start of a comparison between the two forwards that is likely to run and run.
Week 4 Fixtures
All games 3 p.m. BST (10 a.m. ET) unless otherwise stated.
Arsenal vs. Manchester City (12:45 p.m.)
Chelsea vs. Swansea City
Crystal Palace vs. Burnley
Southampton vs. Newcastle
Stoke City vs. Leicester City
Sunderland vs. Tottenham
West Brom vs. Everton
Liverpool vs. Aston Villa (5:30 p.m.)
Manchester United vs. QPR (4 p.m.)
Hull City vs. West Ham (8 p.m.)
1. What to Look Out for This Week
No Stone Left Unturned
John Stones already seems a player at risk of being misused by England. Clearly a centre-back, the Everton youngster looked somewhat uncomfortable at times against Switzerland as he was shoehorned into a slightly unfamiliar right-back role.
Even considering injuries, can Roy Hodgson not find a natural right-back somewhere? Joel Ward, Nathaniel Clyne—it is surely not that hard to find a specialist for the position.
Stones has had a calm start to this season, returning predominantly to a substitute role at the start of the campaign. But neither Sylvain Distin nor Phil Jagielka have sparkled so far, and the game against West Brom could see Stones reintroduced to the preferred XI.
Another long run of games at centre-back would be great for his development and perhaps convince Hodgson that playing him anywhere else only confuses and stunts his growth.
And for My Next Trick
This week, one Italian newspaper hailed Swansea City manager Garry Monk as one of the new managerial “magicians” of European football, following his club’s fine start to the season.
Three games played, three games won, six goals scored and just one conceded (to Wayne Rooney) is indeed an impressive record, but some would suggest that home games against West Brom and Burnley should have produced three points—that it is too soon to make definitive judgements about the Swans' quality.
This weekend sees the Welsh club face the league’s top side, Chelsea. Anything out of that game, and perhaps Monk really does have a magic touch.
A Chance to Take Centre Stage
Another side who have impressed in their start to the season is Aston Villa, who face Liverpool this weekend. Liverpool will be without Daniel Sturridge, much to Brendan Rodgers’ chagrin, but that only opens up an opportunity for Mario Balotelli and/or Rickie Lambert to provide the cutting edge for the Reds.
The game could also see Lazar Markovic get his first start. The ex-Benfica forward might turn out to be the club’s secret weapon this season, and getting him into a grove as soon as possible will only benefit Rodgers. (Rodgers will be disappointed another summer signing, Emre Can, also got injured during the international break.)
After the enforced break for international matches, for some teams the return to Premier League action will feel like the season starting afresh. Crystal Palace and Burnley, who meet at Selhurst Park, will both be under no illusions about how important it now is to get that first win on the board as soon as possible.
The same goes for the likes of Leicester City, West Brom and Sunderland—all teams tipped to be in the relegation mix at the start of the season. Four games is too soon to make any conclusive judgements, but for the spirit in the camps alone, a fast start can be vital.
2. Video of the Week
3. Player to Watch
In hindsight it probably should have been Danny Welbeck (or Radamel Falcao), but we already splurged 500 words or so on them higher up the page. So instead we turn to another striker with a point to prove.
Balotelli was typically unpredictable in his full debut against Spurs, after which Brendan Rodgers revealed it was the first time the Italian had ever defended from a corner before.
After being left out of the Italy squad for the recent international matches, Balotelli has had nearly two weeks at the club to learn a few other new skills. With Daniel Sturridge injured, he may well start against Aston Villa at Anfield. It would seem a glorious chance for him to endear himself to his new fans.
Of course, Balotelli has rarely done anything in a conventional manner.
4. Game of the Weekend
Arsenal vs. Manchester City
It could not really be any other game, could it? Sorry Stoke vs. Leicester, but you don’t quite have the same glamour.
This game would seem to be a prime opportunity for Arsenal to lay down a marker, against a City side that suffered a shock defeat to Stoke City in their last game. With Welbeck in the squad, Arsenal will possess a fine threat on the counter-attack. They'll perhaps also be slightly more solid down the left flank Welbeck is likely to be asked to patrol.
City, meanwhile, know they are already three points behind Chelsea (who already look very impressive) and will not want that gap to continue to grow. With Sergio Aguero back to fitness, they should be brilliant in attack, but some worries about their defence remain.