Euro 2012: Rooney’s understanding with Welbeck makes Hodgson’s choice easy
There’s always an attempt to replicate great moments — particularly goals — in the playground, though any young fan who enjoyed Danny Welbeck’s winner against Sweden for England on Friday evening would have difficulty pulling it off. It was an audacious piece of skill; the fact that it was initially seen as lucky, cynically dismissed as a fluke, made it an altogether better goal as the replay showed Welbeck react instinctively to Theo Walcott’s cross by turning, then letting the ball gently bounce onto the back of his boot away into the right of Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson. It was a goal Zlatan Ibrahimovic, failing to score at the other end, would have been proud of — the sort, clever and controlled, that would typically be attributed to him.
For Walcott, the supplier of the cross, the goal seemed to have evoked memories of another genius. “He reminds me of Dennis Bergkamp at times,” says Theo Walcott of Welbeck, without a hint of hyperbole. Only in Crazy Comparison Country is Welbeck the new Bergkamp, an extremely flattering comparison that does, at least, show the value of having someone like Welbeck in your team. What has helped Welbeck is that he isn’t exclusively a goalscorer — he does more, and this idea of Welbeck being a team-player meant he started five more games than Javier Hernandez in the 2011/12 season for Manchester United, something fans were generally content with despite that being his first proper campaign as a senior player for the club.
And without being too harsh on the Mexican, Welbeck simply got (and gets) involved more; he sees the situation better and yet still allows himself to take risks, his Pritt Stick feet means he has an immense first touch and the ability to dribble past others, while the understanding he’s able to create with players should, in Tuesday’s must-
windraw game to Ukraine, see him partnered with Rooney. For United, both have looked good together; it hasn’t necessarily been a great strike partnership in the Cole-Yorke mould but it doesn’t have to be; both performed consistently enough as a duo when required and there was still, at times, some genuinely sumptuous link-up play between the two.
Roy Hodgson’s decision is made easy for this reason, but Andy Carroll might point out, at least to himself, all alone in a darkened room, that he did enough against Sweden to warrant another start. Indeed, he fits England style of play quite well and he’s evidently chosen the right time to bloom; but Welbeck played just as well in the last game, though even if one performed better than the other, Carroll does not have the advantage the Longsight-born forward has in that he’s familiar with Rooney.
Of course, there’s then the argument that Rooney, back from suspension, should not start as it would be harmful to change a winning team. But England were hardly superior to Sweden; they couldn’t hold the ball when they needed to (possession yet to go above 50% for any of Hodgson’s four games in charge so far) and Rooney, so often something of a bonus midfield player, can at least help alleviate those problems, even if he has looked unconvincing for England for years now, his international high point as far back as Euro 2004. (Rooney spoke of Hodgson’s dilemma — though it’s not really that — in a press conference on Sunday: “The forwards have done well in the games, it’s great for me as well. It’s great competition. You know you need to be at your best to get in the team … there’s four good strikers there and we’ll all fight for one or two places. You have to make sure when you do play that you do well.”)
Hodgson likes club partnerships. Whatever motivated him to overlook Rio Ferdinand, he had originally planned for John Terry to start with Gary Cahill ahead of Joleon Lescott, even though the latter had the better of seasons, before Cahill was ruled out. Club-ties was also perhaps what inspired him to start Ashley Young with Welbeck in the France opener, though admittedly that was no more a successful combination than Ireland’s Eurovision entry. This one should be different, though. These two, as Chris Smalling says, are a perfect match.
“It has been a great pairing for United,” Smalling said. “They link up really well for us — and they get on really well. [Welbeck] knows how he plays — he’s seen his movement. He’s learned a lot off him at United. Danny’s played up top and Wayne’s played just behind and has fed him those balls. They are on the same wavelength.”