Date: 23rd December 2011 at 11:39pm
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In the process of supporting a football club with the status of Manchester United we often forget to spend time lauding players who are just as deserving of our praise as the ones we celebrate from the first row to the rafters of Old Trafford.

While certain players have popped up on the scene and snatched the limelight with awe-inspiring displays (see: Jones, Phil, or Cleverley, Tom) there remains one player who is not getting nearly enough adulation: Danny Welbeck.

Last season the Manchester-born England international was sent out on loan to Steve Bruce’s Sunderland to improve his physique and work on his overall play. During his year away from the friendly confines of Carrington Welbeck seized his opportunity with both hands, turning in a particularly stirring performance against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in which the Black Cats won by a resounding three goals to nil. Welbeck’s level of proficiency in the Sunderland shirt prompted many desperate quotes from Bruce about his desire to make Welbeck’s loan move permanent. Thankfully such calls fell on the deafest of ears at Old Trafford as Sir Alex wisely brought Welbeck home to Manchester to play a bigger role in the first team set up.

For those who were unable to follow him closely during his time in the northeast of England, the Welbeck that returned to Old Trafford looked much different from the one that left a year ago. Before his loan move Welbeck was too wiry and lacked the physical strength to hold off defenders. He also lacked a proper first touch of the ball and composure in front of goal. He had shown his promise in flashes but was clearly in need of more minutes to prove himself. Upon his return, it was clear from the development of his physique that this was a different, much improved Welbeck. And from the first kick of the ball in the preseason it was apparent that United had quite a talent on their payroll.

Proper evidence of Welbeck’s physical development can be found by a simple look at his first goal for United and his latest against Fulham this week.

A wonderstrike from young Danny Welbeck:

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And then his goal from this week:

The goal against Fulham was Danny’s fourth in the league this season in 13 appearances, which is not the worst goals to appearance ratio one will find. His opportunities have been limited by injury and by being below Javier Hernandez on the pecking order. However, over the past few weeks in particular, as well as before his last injury, it has become clear to me that Welbeck is much more of the finished product than Chicharito is and offers more to the first team than the irrepressible Mexican.

Many commentators and pundits remark upon Chicharito’s movement with just cause, but Welbeck’s is almost as good if not as good as Hernandez’s. More importantly, in most of the other aspects generally considered necessary for a striker in the modern game, Welbeck is ahead of Chicharito. Welbeck can hold up the ball much better, is able to competently drift out to the wing and cross the ball and finally can track back and cover attacking fullbacks and central defenders. To be fair to Chicharito, some of that stuff is not really his game as he is asked to drift in the middle of the pitch on the last defender and break forward when United reclaim possession. But he is not as useful to United as Welbeck is when the reds do not have the ball.

I do not want anyone to read that as a knock on Hernandez as I obviously hold him in the highest regard as a fan as well as a writer for his ability to finish off seemingly every chance that comes his way. His knack for scoring a goal especially when our need is most dire (well chronicled in the chant, “Javier Hernandez, Little Pea”) has been invaluable and will continue to be going forward. However I find that until he has proven he has developed his overall game to the same level as Welbeck I think that he ought to feature more from the bench than from the first whistle.

Welbeck’s development to this point of his career has been truly remarkable. For a player of his age, 22, to have basically everything a top forward needs to excel in the top flight excepting an improved touch on the ball is very much deserving of our praise and adulation. Chicharito may take the songs, Wazza may carry the mantle, but Welbeck has done quite a bit to deserve a bit of attention too.