Natural born thriller: I've played for England at every level and I belong here, says proud Welbeck
21:30 GMT, 13 June 2012
Never mind policemen. England footballers are getting younger.
Danny Welbeck made a room full of newspaper men feel distinctly old when he said his first memory of an England striker in action was Michael Owen scoring that goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup.
It drew a gasp from his audience and was then followed by a brief history lesson for the 21-year-old.
Maturity beyond his years: Danny Welbeck is not scared of taking a key role for England
Welbeck was told of a press conference that took place in Paris two years later, when England met France in a friendly.
It was there in the autumn of 2000, at the Stade de France, that the same Michael Owen expressed his desire to lead England’s attack for as long as possible. Alan Shearer had retired from international football, he respectfully noted, and at 20 he declared himself ready to shoulder that burden of responsibility.
A further 12 years on and here in Krakow yesterday Welbeck delivered a similar speech. It was not premeditated in the way Owen’s clearly was. It came in response to a question, but the message was the same. Now he has the job, now he has been selected as England’s centre forward in a major tournament, he has no desire to see someone else in his place.
‘I’ve been put in a position now to lead the line for England and it’s not something I’m scared of,’ said a Manchester United player Sir Alex Ferguson long ago predicted would become an England player.
Test: England will face Sweden on Friday
‘I’m relishing the opportunity. I don’t want to keep shifting in and out but it’s not down to me, it’s down to the manager. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.’
There is an easy confidence about Welbeck. He is comfortable in these surroundings; comfortable with the pressure that comes with playing teams such as France and Sweden here at the European Championship.
‘You try not to think too much about it,’ he said. ‘When you’re on the pitch you want your mind on the game, not the occasion.
‘But this is something I’ve worked towards since I was a little kid. You want to be playing games at the highest level and now that I’m here I’m really proud. I want to develop my game and go as far as I can.’
His response to being selected for Monday’s encounter with the French was not one of fear but of ‘excitement’.
‘Once you’re called up for the squad your mind is set,’ he said. ‘You know, if you’re called upon, that you’re ready. When the manager named the starting line-up I was more or less ready for it.
‘I’ve been playing for England since I
was 14 and it felt like a natural progression to step up to the senior
side. I played Under 16s, Under 17s, Under 18s, 19s and then 21s. That
step up to the seniors was a privilege but it also felt like a natural
Options: Sweden think Roy Hodgson will pick Andy Carroll
The rise to senior status has nevertheless come suddenly. Here, after all, is a player who made only one appearance during the qualifiers; who scored his first international goal in the friendly against Belgium nine days before that opening group game with France.
And yet he sounded like a senior pro; a player schooled at Old Trafford and blessed with great belief not only in his ability but the ability of his team-mates.
Will England attack with more fluency against the Swedes in Kiev tomorrow ‘Most definitely,’ he said.
‘Obviously we’d have liked to have started with a win in the first group game but we know as a team that we want to get forward and get more goals.
‘You’ll see a much more determined England side. We want to get more bodies into our attacking third and create more opportunities and when they arrive the strikers will be ready to put them in.’
On Wednesday they did not seem that ready for anything.
Hodgson had said it would be a ‘sensible session’ but the physical
demands of that contest in Donetsk on Monday have clearly taken their
toll because the first-team players did a light warm-up at the Hutnik
Stadium before returning to the gym for more recovery work.
Impressive: Welbeck spoke wisely
It is not a cause for any real concern. Not when the Swedes are busy bickering among themselves or playing a training game that involves baring one’s backside and inviting your team-mates to strike a ball against it from 20-odd yards.
The Swedes have convinced themselves that Andy Carroll will start ahead of Welbeck on Friday, in particular because of their apparent vulnerability to headers. Six of the last seven goals they have conceded have been scored with the head.
But Welbeck poses an aerial threat as well as the talent to score the kind of goal he did against Belgium. ‘Getting that first England goal gives you that confidence boost,’ he said.
‘The France game was an opportunity to show what I can do. I held the ball up pretty well and brought others into play. But I think, going forward, I really want to get some shots off at goal because I’m a striker and I really want to be scoring goals as well.
‘But I don’t see any need to worry about anything. It’s football and I love football. You’ve just got to take what comes in your stride.’
Wise words from an impressive young man.