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An abrupt end to Danny Welbeck’s Manchester United fairy tale

Danny Welbeck is a player that a lot of Manchester United fans wanted to see flourish at Old Trafford. Born in Manchester and an Academy graduate, ‘Dat Guy’ was a player who many thought would be at the club for years to come. It hasn’t panned out that way though and Welbeck’s transfer to Arsenal was one that prompted interesting reactions from both sets of fans. Arnab Ray puts down his thoughts on Welbeck.

There are no grey areas in the world of football; a heavily polarized world in which you’re either with us or against us. The siege mentality that characterizes an average football fan, yours truly very much included, never ceases to amaze. Perhaps fans of all clubs will tell you so, but as a Manchester United fan I feel that fans of every other club are against me. Success breeds jealousy and it also makes the beneficiaries of the success particularly smug. All this only contributes to a curious state of affairs where loyalty and devotion to the club are of paramount importance. As hard as it may be to imagine every expletive spewing, emotionally charged football fan is a hopeless romantic when it comes to certain situations, none more so than in the case of one club players i.e. academy players who graduate and spend their entire career at the club. These players seem to enjoy a special bond with the fans and the begrudging respect of even the fans of their fiercest rivals. Danny Welbeck seemed on course to becoming one of those.

Welbeck was on the path to cult hero status at Manchester United, if the initial signs were to be believed. Yes, he divided opinion on occasion and yet a majority of the fans were desperate for him to succeed. Born and bred in Manchester, Welbeck fit the profile of a fan favourite right from the start. Having come through the ranks of the Academy, Welbeck marked his league debut with a long range effort against Stoke. Since then, he’s proved to be a valuable squad member for United but much to his frustration he hasn’t been able to nail down a place in the starting XI as a striker.

Welbeck Arsenal United (1)

Not that he wasn’t short of backing from the fan base. In truth, the support he got was disproportionate to his talent, a fact that most fans are aware of. This show of solidarity for Welbeck was not delusional as so many rival fans have pointed out in the past. Instead, it was fans trying to realize the oldest fairy tale in football. Local lad grows up supporting the club, joins at an early age, rises through the ranks and finishes his illustrious career at the club. A tale brought to a premature halt in the last few hours of the transfer window.

It’s fashionable to call Welbeck a rubbish player but regular watchers will ascertain to the fact that he’s a more than useful option for the team. Capable of linking up play and adding a more direct threat with his pace, Welbeck offers plenty in attack. The main hindrance to his progress is the lack of composure in front of goal, a problem that has admittedly stumped me. Watching young Welbeck rising through the ranks, I didn’t think finishing would become a problem. He certainly wasn’t helped by the wide position he found himself being deployed in. Another hindrance to his development was the short term thinking that permeated Sir Alex’s last couple of years in charge of United.

Having been pipped to the title in the dying embers of the 2011/12 season, Sir Alex responded by signing the duo of Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie while ignoring bigger problems most notably in central midfield. The message was simple, United were ready to match fire with fire. Van Persie repaid his transfer fee over the course of his first season at the club as he starred for the side that comfortably won the title. The only downside was the marginalization of Danny Welbeck.

Even at a club such as Manchester United, where young players especially Academy products are given a chance to succeed, the odds of a young player making it aren’t great. Despite the Glazer family induced debt at the club, United boast a spending power that only a handful of clubs can match as shown in recent times. The old adage goes, “If you’re old enough, you’re good enough”; what it doesn’t say is that you’ve to be good enough in the first place.

The hardships of Academy players at elite clubs is a topic for another day though. Coming back to Welbeck, the indications in the media were that his days at United were numbered. Soon it seemed inevitable that Welbeck would not be at the club come the QPR game this weekend. Talk about a loan deal was reassuring, a temporary fix with the door still open for a return. A season worth of football as the central striker and on return a better chance to usurp one of Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie. This was before the confirmation of a permanent transfer to Arsenal.

There’s no love lost between Arsenal and United and rightly so. The rivalry between the two has varied from intense to downright nasty at its peak. Apart from the fans I know personally, I don’t get along with Arsenal fans and I’m sure they’d say the same about most Manchester United fans. Thus, to see a player that you were desperate to succeed at your club move to them is a bitter pill to swallow.

I’ve avoided criticizing Welbeck throughout this article but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely blameless. At just 23, maybe he could have stuck around for longer, trying to prove to Van Gaal that he was deserving of the nod up front. Being a Manchester United fan, maybe he could have waited for his chance to shine. Maybe he could have shown the loyalty that characterized so many of his peers and indeed, the players he grew up idolizing. Or maybe my lofty expectations were always going to be dashed. The distinction between fan and player tends to get blurred at times and for this I have only myself to blame.

From a footballing aspect, the deal makes sense for all parties involved. Arsenal shored up an area of their squad which looked suspiciously light weight, Welbeck took his chance to play more in his preferred position, ( and Champions League football of course ), while United have an upgrade in Radamel Falcao and secured a decent price for Welbeck. Having said that, much of the support that Welbeck garnered from the United fans had little to do with football in the first place.

Written by Arnab Ray.

Read all our articles under “The Devil’s Advocate” Team Blog.

Arnab Ray

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