World Cup 2014: 'Frustrated' Danny Welbeck ready to use the Brazil tournament as shop window
Reports emerged at the end of last season that he wanted to leave United
There is a long pause. “I’d rather not answer that question,” says Danny Welbeck.
The Manchester United striker has been asked to clarify his future at Old Trafford after a season that ended in reports he wanted to leave the club, followed by the arrival of a new manager in Louis van Gaal.
This enigmatic answer leaves Welbeck’s future as opaque as ever, but one thing is clear. When he takes the field for England this summer he will be in the shop window, on display for the new shopkeeper as well as any potential buyers.
In Brazil Van Gaal will be coaching the Dutch, potential quarter-final opponents for England, and Welbeck added: “I’m pretty sure he will be watching. In the World Cup I want to make sure I show my quality. I’m quite confident in my ability that I can do what needs to be done.”
It became clear towards the end of last season that Welbeck and David Moyes were not on the same wavelength. The change in management should augur well for the 23-year-old as Van Gaal has a reputation for bringing on young players. However, with Robin van Persie likely to be made captain, and Wayne Rooney having signed a new £300,000-a-week deal earlier this year, Welbeck’s chances of leading the line would appear limited. And that is where he wants to play.
“I’d like to play central,” he says. “I’ve been playing on the left for a while and it’s got to the time where I want to stake a place up front. It does get frustrating. You want to be playing in a certain position and you’re not getting the opportunity to do that.”
One ray of hope is Van Gaal’s preference for 4-3-3. “If you are playing on the left of a four-man midfield there are a lot more defensive duties to do so you can’t find the times to keep attacking. But if you’re on the left of a 4-3-3 I find that position really good as well. If I was to play on the left I’d rather play there if there was three in midfield.”
That is the formation he has often found himself in for England, and it seems to suit. Welbeck scored nine goals in 25 league games for United last year, his most productive league season despite the club’s travails, but he is notably more deadly for his country.
“I wouldn’t say I play better for England, but my goals-per-game ratio is definitely better,” he says. “With three in midfield and three up front there’s a bit more defensive cover rather than me being that defensive cover.
“For United I’m more likely to be left wing of a four-man midfield with only two centre-mids, so it’s a bit more difficult for me to maybe make those runs to get in and score those goals when I’ve got to think about my defensive duties as well. Maybe I’m kind of let off the leash a bit more for England than United.”
Welbeck’s frustrations at United did not end with his playing position, He was also ‘surprised’ to be criticised by Moyes for not training enough.
“I was pretty surprised to be honest. I’ve grown up at Manchester United and been professional all through my career and I always do extra work. It’s born-and-bred in me to do extra work after training and maybe he wasn’t seeing that extra stuff. He did come out with that statement, but before then I was doing extra training and maybe he just didn’t see it.”
Welbeck has continued that approach with England, working out during his end-of-season break in Dubai before joining up with Roy Hodgson’s squad. “I felt it was important to keep ticking over in the week off,” he says, “a lot of players did. I did a few sessions and it’s worked out pretty well.”
Like those Manchester United team-mates who also made the cut Welbeck clearly sees Brazil 2014 as a second chance to get something from a disappointing campaign.
“We’ve just got to put [last season] behind us and focus on the World Cup and try to do our best for the country. We’ve got an exciting squad with lots of talent in it, but [also] with a lot of experience to mix and blend. We are going into the games wanting to win and we’ll see how far that takes us.”
International football is increasingly regarded as second-tier compared to the club game, notably by Arsene Wenger, but given a choice between the World Cup and the Champions League Welbeck does not hesitate. “It is the World Cup. It is the stuff that all kids want to play in. You dream of it as a kid and one of the bonuses is that it is in Brazil and I grew up watching them in World Cups. It is an exciting place to go and we are looking forward to it.
“I liked Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo. - all the Rs. It was Ronaldo’s goals, he used his strength to beat defenders and score, then there was Ronaldinho’s ability to glide past players.”
Did he have any Brazilian shirts?
“No,” says the boy from the Longsight, south Manchester, “always United.” Which underlines what a wrench it would be for him to leave should he and Van Gaal not envisage a future together.
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