Among the many individuals to whom Sir Alex Ferguson could tip his hat where the discovery of talented young Manchester footballers is concerned was the man with the battered car who for years would pack hoards of youngsters aboard, come Sunday morning, and head off for Fletcher Moss Rangers junior football club, in inner city Longsight.
He was Wes Brown's father, Bancroft, and not content with delivering up one of the mainstays of Manchester United's defence he also discovered that the boy from across the road, Danny Welbeck, could play a bit too. Welbeck was six when he first made the journey and this weekend comes the fulfilment of all that promise when he earns a place in Ferguson's Carling Cup starting line-up. The 18-year-old is by no means the full article – privately, Ferguson believes he needs to thicken into his gangling frame – but three goals in his last six starts have earned him his place at Wembley tomorrow and a true sense of his value to the United manager was offered earlier this week by another Scottish-born manager, Burnley's Owen Coyle.
Coyle bought another United striker, Chris Eagles, from Ferguson in the pre-season and he asked Ferguson if Welbeck might be available on loan to go with him. "I spoke to him in June, he said he would review it in July, but when he did, he said that he had come back from the summer break and was flying in training. He said then that he would feature in the first team. We had seen Welbeck as a kid and we were trying to do something, but I was probably just one manager from a host of clubs asking the same question."
Welbeck, who may well be playing out wide right tomorrow, in a role to which he is as accustomed as when he plays as a pure centre-forward, has been compared to the Portsmouth and former Arsenal forward Nwankwo Kanu. Welbeck's languid style, unusual for a taller player (he is 6ft 1in) but equally visible in 6ft 5in Kanu, has something to do with it. His confidence on the ball was on display in the run and thunderous finish he executed against Stoke at Old Trafford this season. Welbeck can evidently beat defenders with either foot and his stature provides a foil to Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, with their lower centres of gravity.
Rooney has indicated that he is particularly impressed with Welbeck, who is Longsight-born but has been the subject of interest from the Ghanaian FA, courtesy of his parents' nationality.
Success at Old Trafford, where strikers like Eagles and Fraizer Campbell have not found it, would be of symbolic importance to United, who have not produced a striker from their youth system since Mark Hughes joined the club school in Wrexham and was thrown into the first team by Ron Atkinson in 1983. Norman Whiteside and Andy Ritchie had managed to transfer their scoring records at junior and reserve level to the top flight but the fabled class of '92 was made up of defenders, midfielders and wingers.
Irish-born midfielder Darron Gibson is also expected to start tomorrow, leading Ferguson to reflect in the programme notes on the young side he fielded at Port Vale in the League Cup in the 1993-94 season, which prompted the local MP to make a complaint in the Commons. "He said the Potteries public were being denied the chance to see great players," Ferguson reflects. "He didn't realise they were being given the privilege of seeing even greater players – because we had David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt that night!"
Ben Foster is also in contention to play in goal tomorrow and Jonny Evans could be at the heart of defence if he is passed fit after feeling his ankle problem against Internazionale. But Welbeck may be the one to catch the eye. "He's got a smooth and languid style," Paul McGuinness, his coach at Under-18 level, said yesterday. "But don't let that fool you. It sometimes disguises the fact that he is a really hard worker. He has good all-round technique. He's strong, quick, good defensively as well as going forward, and he's a real leader, too. He is a good personality to have around the dressing room."Reuse content