EXCLUSIVE: My dad didn't have the heart to tell me I was rejected by City, says Welbeck
22:00 GMT, 24 March 2012
Danny Welbeck's contribution to the current mind games between title rivals Manchester United and Manchester City is more slapstick than sinister. ‘City custard-pied me as a kid,’ says the young United striker, referring to the day he went for a trial there as an eight-year-old and was rejected.
‘My Dad didn’t tell me at the time, it was just before Christmas and he didn’t want to break any bad news. It wouldn’t have mattered though. I am one of those people that if you are going to say something, just say it. I take it on the chin.
‘Straight after Christmas I played in a tournament for my local side, Fletcher Moss, and that’s where United picked me up. I went for a trial and have never looked back since. I was always a Red anyway.’
Danny boy: Welbeck was turned down by Man City as a kid
The next few weeks could see City live to regret their decision. From being the sixth-choice striker at United a year ago, Welbeck is now Wayne Rooney’s established front partner, ahead of Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen in the pecking order.
No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson believes he has finally achieved his wish of uncovering a great Mancunian striker at Old Trafford.
Welbeck has scored 10 times this season and set up many of Rooney’s 28 goals. Unusually, he has all three attributes a top striker would like – speed, power and technical ability – and looks a certainty to go to Euro 2012 with England.
The dramatic rise of Welbeck, who is still only 21, should inspire any inner-city boy running around the streets with a ball at his feet. Growing up in Longsight, three miles from Old Trafford on the road to Stockport, Welbeck and his brothers used to play in Markfield Avenue with the Brown boys, the oldest of whom, Wes, was a Manchester United trainee. Young Danny was five at the time but grew up fast playing with and against the older children.
‘Playing on the streets back then you would do things in the little games and think, “I’ll do this at Old Trafford”. Now it’s finally happening – it’s the stuff that dreams are made of,’ says Welbeck.
Breakthrough year: Welbeck has been in fine form for United this season
Welbeck on… Ghana roots
My Dad was always buzzing about Abedi
Pele. I was like ‘Pele I only know one Pele.’ I’ve seen YouTube clips
now so I know there are two Peles! I’ve been to Ghana three or four
times to see relatives. When I have the chance, I will go back again
‘I could see what Wes was doing, he was going off to Lilleshall with England and then going away with United. It was really motivational. Here was a guy living directly across the road from me so I used to think, “If he can do it, why can’t you”
‘Longsight was pretty rough. But where we lived on our estate, everybody knew each other. It was a close-knit community and at that age you’re immune to other stuff going on around you. But without realising, it makes you street-wise, you know what to do in certain situations and that has helped me through life.
‘I still talk regularly to people I played with there. Reece Brown [who is the younger brother of Wes and a Manchester United reserve currently on loan at Oldham] is still one of my best friends. We grew up together. We have come from the same stuff.’
Welbeck was never likely to stray into the drugs and knife culture others in Longsight might have succumbed to. He had his footballing ability to count on and the influence of his religious parents, Victor and Elizabeth, who had emigrated to England from Ghana before Danny was born.
‘My parents made me who I am. They are kind, generous, loving people,’ says Welbeck warmly. ‘They work very hard [both are social workers] and want the best for people around them. They always wanted me to work hard on my education but supported in my football as well. I just want to repay the faith that they showed in me.
International recognition: Welbeck looks certain to go to Euro 2012
Welbeck on… Muamba
I know Fabrice from England Under-21s. I
was having a nap at our team hotel when it happened, Ashley Young told
me and I was so distressed, I didn’t speak all night. I just keep hoping
and praying he is going to make a full recovery
‘We are a religious family. My Mum still goes to church every Sunday. There was a time when I was younger when I started getting games on a Sunday so it came down to a choice between going to church and playing football. I think my mum knew what I really loved and she did not stop me from going to football.
‘All the hard work has paid off. It was tough but it is what you aim for, what you want to achieve in life.’
But what about the healthy pay packet and adoring fans that comes with playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Surely they are enough to turn a young man’s head
‘People around me would never let me get too big-headed. At the end of the day you’re just another human being,’ says Welbeck.
‘I’m lucky to be doing something I love. I don’t think you could get too big-headed at Man United because it is a family-orientated club. There are players around who have so much experience in the game that they always keep you on track.’
Welbeck now stands a powerful 6ft 1in tall but growth spurts during his teenage years created injury problems. It was during a loan spell at Sunderland last season, and particularly a match-winning performance at Chelsea, that people finally stood up and took notice.
Gunning for the title: United face a two-horse race against City
Welbeck on… Euro 2012
As a kid you want to test yourself at
the highest level. I know Wazza has a two-game ban but we have enough
great players in England to do the job without him. And once Wayne is
back, he will add world-class quality to the team
Ferguson, a long-time admirer, had no hesitation in making him a cornerstone of this season’s title challenge. United have pulled back a seven-point deficit on City and go into Monday night’s game against Fulham at Old Trafford odds-on favourites to be champions.
The exchange this week between Ferguson and City’s Patrick Vieira – they both claimed each other’s clubs were ‘desperate’ – signalled the start of the mind games that accompanies every close-fought title race.
‘Every single game is getting more important. It’s exciting to be involved in because I’ve not been through this before, a title race like this. I’m just looking forward to every game,’ says Welbeck. ‘It’s definitely lived up to my expectations. I went to Sunderland as a stepping stone in my career, to become recognised in the Premier League before coming back to Man United a bigger and better person. I knew I could make a big statement for myself this season.’
The partnership with Rooney has exceeded even Ferguson’s expectations.
‘He is a Scouser, I am a Manc, but we are good friends. We are always messing about and joking off the field, while on the pitch we just seem to work really well together. We kind of understand each other’s games,’ adds Welbeck.
Blossoming partnership: Rooney (left) and Welbeck have developed an understanding
Welbeck on… Man United
They teach their forwards to play four
different positions – on the left, up front, behind the striker or on
the right wing. It’s a great asset to have, being able to mix and match.
When you are called upon by the senior team, it’s not then a whole new
world for you
‘Obviously, partnering Wayne Rooney up front is a big honour and I’d hope he would say the same thing!’
Next up for Welbeck and United is Fulham at Old Trafford on Monday evening. United beat Fulham 5-0 in the reverse fixture at Craven Cottage earlier this season – both he and Rooney were on the scoresheet – but Welbeck admits United fans cannot be guaranteed another walkover.
‘We have been in the situation a few times this season where teams just want to sit back at Old Trafford and try and get us on the counter-attack,’ he says.
‘I think you have to keep playing your normal game, be patient and probe the openings by knocking the ball around.
‘You can’t get too impatient, that is what they want. You can’t let them get into your head.’
With that, Welbeck smiles again. He was talking about Fulham, but the message was also aimed at City. The custard pie may be about to be flung back in their faces.