Danny Welbeck unfazed by prospect of surprise start
England striker winning battle with Bent to partner Rooney in Montenegro on Friday
Danny Welbeck has been brought up at Manchester United, as he explained yesterday, to "play the game, not the occasion", and for a young man who has made such rapid strides in football as him, that will stand him in good stead come Friday night.
Welbeck is the favourite to make his first England start against Montenegro in Podgorica, the last Euro 2012 qualifier from which Fabio Capello's team need a single point to be sure of qualification. Barring injuries, Capello has narrowed it down to either Welbeck or Darren Bent to play off Rooney in what would be a variation on the 4-2-3-1 system that England have played of late.
In the England camp, a lot can change in three days but the fact that Welbeck has accelerated so quickly up the hierarchy is an indication of the qualities of a player who is not 21 until next month. He has scored four goals for United already this season, despite spending just 208 minutes on the pitch, having moved ahead of Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen in the pecking order.
Welbeck is Manchester born and raised by parents who moved from Ghana to Longsight and subsequently Droylsden. He has played for England at every junior level from under-17s to under-21s and made his senior debut in the friendly against Ghana in March. He would have been in Capello's squad for the previous Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales were it not for injury.
The United connection goes back to growing up in the same Longsight street as Wes Brown's late father, Bancroft, who introduced him to the junior team Fletcher Moss Rangers, the same side that Wes and his brother Reece played for. Reece, now in the United reserve team, is, Welbeck says, his best friend. He made his debut for United three years ago but only now, via loan spells at Preston North End and Sunderland, is he established in the first-team squad.
"I'm not seeing it as like 'Whoa, I've got to this stage' or anything like that," Welbeck said. "I just want to keep improving because I know there's no limits. It's all an illusion. In football, you don't want to put a limit on anything. You don't want to be happy with where you're at. If you think of the main ones like Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, they score goals and they break records and they just want to keep breaking them. They don't want to stop there. You can't ever be satisfied, I don't think.
"That's how everyone should feel. You don't just want to be there. You want to keep going. I'm just starting out, so I want to keep on improving. I'm only young, 20 years of age, so just to be playing with these players week in, week out at United and also coming here to train with the best players in the nation, that's a big buzz. But I don't want it to stop there."
The loan spell at Sunderland last season, Welbeck says, helped him to develop properly as a player. Apart from moving away from Manchester and cooking his own food, it enabled him to play regularly until injury in April curtailed his season. Until then there had been false starts at United – he played in the side that lost to Leeds United in the FA Cup third round in January 2010 and the home defeat to Besiktas in the Champions League in November 2009.
That aside, Welbeck has scored goals when he has been given the chance, including a memorable one against Stoke City on his Premier League debut in November 2008 and in the League Cup. "I think it was a bit unfair [to be judged on one-off games] if you are at United, and not really playing," he said.
"I was playing one reserve game a month and travelling with the first-team squad so I've not got match fitness. Sometimes there will be a reserve game on a Wednesday but then the manager doesn't want you to get injured, so you miss games, and then thrown in at the deep end to play at the weekend. You can't really do yourself justice. You are not fit enough, not sharp enough, that's a really big reason why I went on loan.
"I needed minutes in the Premier League. There are a lot of players at United and other big teams that won't really be getting the chance. Going on loan to another Premier League team or Championship [team] allows them to make big steps.
"I can't say how much it helped me going to Sunderland. I had a really good time there, everyone was welcoming. I had to go there, play in the Premier League, and gain experience and get a lot more confidence. I know how to go into a game situation, how to prepare and all that stuff. You have to go there with the thought in your head that it may be a stepping stone."
If it is Welbeck who partners Rooney on Friday he is not fazed by the prospect. "He [Rooney] is so easy to talk to," Welbeck said. "It's not like 'Wow, I'm going to talk to Wayne Rooney now!' He's not like that at all, he's not that type of character." It is a situation Welbeck has been preparing for most of his young life.
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