Welbeck wants to be new Owen of 1998

Striker desperate to emulate his first hero – yes, he is that young. By Ian Herbert

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The Independent Online

IIt was one of those moments that occur from time to time in football, revealing that you are getting older and that those carrying the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with England really are so young. Danny Welbeck said that the striker he had always wanted to be in the kickabouts on Longsight's Markfield Avenue, in inner-city Manchester, was Michael Owen (right). His first England memory was that Owen goal in St-Etienne against Argentina, in June 1998.

"I was sitting in the living room with my whole family and saw him take that touch with the outside of his foot and just go, just go!" he recalled. "He shifted it past a couple of Argentina defenders and stuck it in the top corner and just... wow!" Welbeck calculated that he had been "eight years old… seven?"

He was seven, indeed, and it would be six months or so later that Manchester City, with whom he was trialling, told his father, Victor, that "he's just not good enough".

The 21-year-old Welbeck has come a long way since then. "I've been put in a position now to lead the line for England and it's not something I'm scared of," he said. "I'm relishing the opportunity. " This wasn't a lack of confidence talking. Welbeck is simply so cool a character that he's virtually iced up half the time.

You feel that some of these young England players are so terrified of slipping up and providing a headline that they consider breathing a risky business. Welbeck and Jordan Henderson, sitting to his right, were certainly not keen to play the revolutionaries yesterday and say that the 2010 World Cup had disappointed them.

But while Welbeck might be diffident, he is confident. Articulate and intelligent, too: his nine GCSEs, with As in English literature and mathematics, are the outcome of the education pressed upon him by his Ghanaian immigrant parents, Victor and Elizabeth. He also feels quite deeply that the starting place, which Roy Hodgson seems resolved to grant him despite Sweden's vulnerability to a player such as Andy Carroll, is his entitlement. "I've been playing for England since I was 14 and it felt like a natural progression to step up to the senior side," he said, returning to a familiar theme for him. "Under-16s, 17s 18s, 19s, 21s – that step up to the senior was just a privilege and it felt like a natural progression."

It nearly didn't happen. Nigel de Jong's challenge in the 30 April Manchester derby left him with a severely bruised ankle which a heavy challenge against the French in Donetsk appeared to have exacerbated. "Yeah I was worried," Welbeck confirmed.

Coach Gary Neville's familiar presence is helping Welbeck, as is that of Wayne Rooney, who is clearly in his ear – but in a good way. "He's always there giving me advice on and off the pitch. Just before the games, at half-time and everything," Welbeck said. "I'm glad to be around him. It's not anything he's said, he's just always there just letting you know what to do in the games, or if he's seen a weakness in the opposition how you can exploit that."

He might have more GCSEs than Rooney but they do seem to share that lack of introspection off the field of play. It's hard to imagine Welbeck losing any sleep this week at England's Hotel Stary. "It's something that I love, and I don't see any need to worry about anything really. Football's football, and you're going to come across the good and the bad, but you've got to take it in your stride."

And the other part of being so young is you've perhaps not watched too much of Zlatan Ibrahimovic down the years.

"I've [only] really watched the Premier League, but on video games and consoles if you've got Ibrahimovic on your team you're not sad," Welbeck said. "We know the qualities he's got."

I've been playing for England since I was 14 and it felt like a natural progression to step up to the senior side