Belfast Telegraph

Wenger's show of faith in Welbeck can prove profitable

By Ian Herbert

it says everything about the lunatic world of transfer deadline day that Arsenal paid out a straight £16m for Danny Welbeck because Arsene Wenger was up at 6am for an early flight and had more time than usual to have the necessary conversations.

His trusted chief scout, Steve Rowley, had watched Welbeck train for England at London Colney on the day that deal was done.

But did he see the video clip which asks searching questions about Welbeck's finishing and goes some distance to explaining his United strike rate of one goal almost every five games?

The film captures the moment, a little before 8.30pm under the Old Trafford floodlights on April 1, when Welbeck was presented by Wayne Rooney with a golden opportunity to put the ball beyond Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer and give his side a lead in the Champions League last-16 first leg.

There was an electrifying atmosphere in the stadium that night but David Moyes needed Welbeck to shut it out and recall what he and the coaching staff had identified as the faintest element of predictability in Neuer: his tendency to leap up for the ball when faced with a one-on-one.

"Shoot low if you're sent through," Welbeck had been instructed.

Moyes held his breath in the split second that his player steadied himself. To his dismay, he saw Welbeck attempt to execute a chip, miscuing it so horribly that Neuer's comfortable stop was not strictly necessary.

The course of football history, and managerial careers, can rest on moments like that.

If – a very big if – United had progressed past the Germans, and Europe had provided professional salvation for Moyes, we would probably still be having the same conversation about the club's decision to release Welbeck.

Moyes valued him but a realisation that he was not the prodigious finisher United needed lay behind his decision to look to Paris Saint-Germain's Edinson Cavani.

Moyes personally scouted Cavani three times, only to go off the idea of bidding, concluding that he was not as good as Luis Suarez and over-priced at £65m.

Louis van Gaal has reached broadly the same conclusion about Welbeck. His assessment on Thursday that the 23-year-old is simply not United "standard" came with the added implication that the player was not willing enough to fit in with the manager's "philosophy".

In Welbeck's defence, it was more than egoism which made him ask to leave. The struggle to assert himself among United's stars was creating the psychological uncertainties that a centre forward cannot afford to harbour.

There is a feeling among some of Roy Hodgson's England staff that Welbeck's bit-part role has been a highly significant factor in his development curve.

The feeling at the Football Association is that England's Liverpool players have been transformed by the consistency of their starts. In four and a half seasons, Welbeck started only 53 games for United and only once more than 20 in a single campaign.

When he did get a run in the team last Christmas, he scored five goals in six starts and there were other moments of promise: the goal from 35 yards, 21 minutes into his Premier League debut against Stoke City in the winter of 2008, and two FA Cup games against Derby County in the same season. But the tendency to attempt the over-elaborate when opportunities arrive is a well-established trend.

Welbeck's work-rate in a supporting role is the indisputable element. In the Champions League tie at Real Madrid last year, he was man of the match, starting because of his energy, doubling as an offensive threat and an anchor on Xabi Alonso. He scored, but missed a good chance.

The same doubled-edged game was evident in Basel for England against Switzerland on Monday night.

When Welbeck had scored, slightly fortuitously, with his shin, he was confident enough to double his tally.

But in the first half, after dispossessing Steve von Bergen and racing down the Swiss right flank, he put in an anaemic ball out of Raheem Sterling's reach. The opportunity was simply crying out for a thumping finish.

That need for someone to believe in Welbeck was manifest in the way he battered Arsenal's door down.

He pressed them to buy him, rather than find himself tied to the continued uncertainty of a loan deal.

He wanted a real expression of faith in him from one of the best clubs in the land. For Wenger to have put £16m on the table affirms Welbeck's own belief that he is an elite centre forward.

Whether goals will start to flow from that remains to be seen. It is up to Welbeck to prove it – beginning against Manchester City today.

Belfast Telegraph


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