Danny Welbeck ready to haunt Louis van Gaal
ARSENAL v MAN UNITED
(Tomorrow, 1.30am, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
When Danny Welbeck runs out at Old Trafford, he will epitomise all that Manchester United have lost.
His jersey crest will say Arsenal. But his spirit was born in Old Trafford.
He is a local hero made good elsewhere, a ghost of United's past ready to haunt Louis van Gaal.
Whether he scores or not, Welbeck represents the last star of a fading philosophy. Van Gaal's insistence that the striker's sale was necessary suggests that he may understand the game's most subtle nuances, but he can't quite grasp United's soul.
He doesn't get the purity of a postcode.
Sir Alex Ferguson did. He saw United's academy as not only a chance to fertilise a player's hometown roots, but to also strip away the individual.
Every academy product served the common good. United's finest were superstars only on billboards. On the pitch, they were cogs.
For Ferguson, the clue was in the title. His men won because they were united. They won titles not always because they were the best - at times, they clearly weren't - they won because they were united.
Welbeck was the last in a long line of local (and poached) youth players who were successfully indoctrinated by the academy to be versatile, adaptable, reliable and, most of all, selfless.
They sacrificed themselves to serve the superstars. They were content to play second fiddle under a manager who favoured a dependable squad rather than a fanciful first 11.
Rather naively, van Gaal has claimed this week that Welbeck had to leave, being the club's fourth-choice striker.
The centre forward was seldom a regular under Ferguson, too, but still sustained a level of consistency that endeared him to both the management and the masses.
Ferguson's greatest trick was to convince every squad member that he was indispensable. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was rarely a regular, but he stayed long enough to become a club legend.
In their heyday, United's squad players really were indispensable. The youth academy produced Ferguson's mythical "Manchester United" players by churning out committed chameleons.
Gary Neville has often referred to his teammates being capable of "doing a job" for Fergie in different positions and on different stages.
Wes Brown and Darren Fletcher in Europe, John O'Shea across the back four and Welbeck off the bench, United dominated English football with these players.
In December 2002, I sat in the Old Trafford press box watching one man destroy Arsenal's hallowed midfield, freeing United's authentic artists Juan Sebastian Veron and Paul Scholes to win the day.
On a pitch filled with preening peacocks, he wandered off with Man-of-the-Match honours. His name? Phil Neville.
In the same year, Pele said his World Cup player of the tournament was Nicky Butt. These were the men who made Manchester. Upon such shoulders, United's superstars lifted the club into the stratosphere.
But van Gaal is phasing them out.
There are hardly any left at Old Trafford. Of the academy-reared sidemen, Fletcher barely hangs on but Welbeck has gone.
Instead, United are flailing around in the transfer market desperately trying to play a half-baked game of Galacticos, throwing together a few headline acts and hoping for the best.
Every day brings fresh rumours of international pin-ups linked to United, the latest being German centre back Mats Hummels.
The Red Devils are cobbling together a kind of World 11, but not necessarily a winning squad.
When Real Madrid replaced their European Cup-winning side with the Galacticos, Fernando Hierro remarked that the Spanish giants were adding names but losing something intangible, something that made them special.
Neville and Scholes say much the same now about United.
The Red Devils increasingly resemble the Chelsea of old, throwing vulgar sums at celebrity footballers looking for a final cash injection for their offshore tax havens.
And the Blues are doing a decent impression of United in their prime, a squad filled with selfless, industrious performers, often rotated but always sharing their manager's uncompromising attitude.
Every Chelsea player belongs, just as Welbeck once did at United.
He was never surplus to requirements under Ferguson, but van Gaal thought otherwise. At 23, Welbeck had no future at the club stamped through his DNA.
The Dutchman may rue his short-sighted decision.
A proud, devoted disciple of United's title-winning work ethic will receive a hero's welcome at Old Trafford tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
It's just a shame he'll be wearing an Arsenal jersey.
This is the football world. Van Persie has scored already three goals against Arsenal as a United player. That’s life, believe me.
- Man United manager Louis van Gaal accepts that Danny Welbeck would love to score against them tomorrow morning
BY THE NUMBERS
Danny Welbeck has scored 10 goals in 20 appearances for both club and country since leaving Manchester United.
No regrets selling Welbeck: Van Gaal
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal will not rue selling Danny Welbeck to Arsenal, as the England striker prepares to face his former club.
Welbeck, 23, has scored 10 goals in 20 appearances for club and country since being allowed to leave for £16 million ($32.7m) on transfer-deadline day in September.
The Manchester-born forward will come up against his old teammates for the first time when United visit the Emirates Stadium tomorrow morning (Singapore time) for the standout Premier League clash of the weekend.
Dutchman van Gaal (above) attributes Welbeck's success at Arsenal to being a regular in their first team, after he was made to wait for opportunities during his time at United.
"I think that a player who is playing mostly fixed in the team, he develops and always will," van Gaal said.
"He takes all the benefit from playing every week. That was a question mark with Manchester United. It's good to see he's doing what I thought."
Van Gaal accepted that Welbeck would enjoy scoring against his old club, much like United's ex-Arsenal forward Robin van Persie has when he has found the net against the team he left in 2012.
"This is the football world," van Gaal said. "Van Persie has scored already three goals against Arsenal as a United player. That's life, believe me."
Meanwhile, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned that he cannot offer guarantees of a place in the starting 11 to Welbeck or anyone else in his squad.
Welbeck is expected to overcome a minor hamstring problem suffered on international duty to face his former club at the Emirates Stadium.
France forward Olivier Giroud is back in contention following three months out with a broken leg.
Theo Walcott may be ruled out because of a groin problem, but Alexis Sanchez, who has been in great form since a summer move from Barcelona, offers another option in attack.
Germany international Lukas Podolski is another frustrated by a lack of first-team opportunities, but Wenger insists that is all part and parcel of competition at a leading club.
"You can only select 11 players. We have an abundance of offensive players at the moment," said Wenger.
"Some of them do not get the chance to play, and it is frustrating for them, which I can understand. Unfortunately you always (have to) make a decision on that front."
Asked whether Giroud faced a battle to regain his position, Wenger said: "There is always a fight because we have a lot of offensive options.
"Welbeck can play in different positions up front and there is room for both of them to start in some games. Of course it is a fight."
Wenger suggested that there would be no concessions made on who was to be the leading forward.
"One of the main reasons (Welbeck signed) was that he wanted to play. We spoke about that and that was one of the main reasons why he came here. (To play as a central striker) was not a condition, it was just that he plays," he said.
"You have goalscoring records which are absolutely outstanding from players who play wide or central, that is not the problem. When you are a player, you want to play."
Arsenal versus Man United used to be one of the highlights of the season, but is now seen as a contest between two sides set to battle it out for a top-four finish rather than the title itself.
"I am sure that will not last. You have to look further than the table and look at the quality of the players. I think it's a very exciting game to watch," said Wenger, with Arsenal in sixth and United seventh.
"Apart from Chelsea, it is very tight and there are 27 games still to be played, so it is too early to make such an assessment." - Wire Services.
- Chelsea v West Brom
- Everton v West Ham
- Leicester v Sunderland
- Man City v Swansea
- Newcastle v QPRStoke v Burnley
- 1.30am: Arsenal v Man United
- 9.30pm: Crystal Palace v Liverpool
- 11.55pm: Hull v Tottenham
- 30am: Aston Villa v Southampton