In February 2012, I visited Old Trafford for the second time and for the first time in over seven years. This time it was to see Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 in Luis Suarez’s first game after his eight game ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra.
With me, I had my United oblivious best friend but during the game, he learnt the name of one player in particular because as Paul Scholes struggled to get back into midfield in the second half quickly enough having made a late run into the box in United’s previous attack, he saw a player sprinting back from his forward position to cover alongside Michael Carrick for Liverpool to attack on
“Who’s that?” he asked.
He runs a lot and works very hard. If you were asked to give a one line summary of Welbeck’s strengths that wouldn’t be too far off the mark (although, it has to be said, he also possesses an excellent understanding of the game and is tactically aware which goes well along with running a lot and working hard).
However as his critics make sure to point out, he also has weaknesses; his first touch isn’t the best, his finishing needs some working on and he’s neither the greatest passer nor crosser of the ball. For a player who primarily is a striker, his weaknesses are strange and on that basis, it’s easy to understand why he has so many critics and why there are so many who ask what he really adds to the team.
But if you watch him, it is so easy to love Welbz. He has shown his worth time and time again whenever called upon. Much like his team mate Tom Cleverley, Welbeck suffers from being misunderstood by the non-United masses.
He is a rare breed in the sense he’s one of very few strikers whose game who shouldn’t be judged on number of goals scored. Unlike Rooney, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez, how many goals he scores really does not say much about his current form. If Rooney, van Persie or Hernandez has only scored one or two goals in their last ten games, you could safely assume they are experiencing a dip in form without having watched any of it but if it were Welbeck, it wouldn’t tell you much at all.
Last season the young Englishman only scored two goals in all competitions but Sir Alex Ferguson still gave him 39 appearances and put him in the starting lineup in both games against Real Madrid, notably in favour of Wayne Rooney in the return leg at Old Trafford. So whilst there is no way around that two goals in 39 obviously is a poor record for an attacking player at any club, it does not fairly reflect his performance level because anyone who watched most of those games would argue he had a good season.
Moreover, because of his strengths being limited he, unlike some other players, understands he won’t start every game. You can put him in the stands for five games straight and you still won’t hear any complaints and you can bet your house on him playing his heart out when he finally does get some time on the pitch.
Pointing out Welbeck’s weaknesses will always be easier than pointing out his strengths but it doesn’t mean he’s not a good or useful player. His strengths can lazily be summed up be tarred with a workhorse brush but it just happens he’s very good at that side of his game which is why the majority of United fans now have a special place for him in their hearts. That and the fact he is a Longsight lad.