At 30, Danny Welbeck is now an established Premier League striker. Brighton and Hove Albion are the striker’s fifth Premier League club, including his loan at Sunderland, and he is a player that still shows his quality when injuries allow. However, had it not been for the injuries that have ravaged his career, Welbeck would undoubtedly be regarded much more highly in the game.
Welbeck joined Sunderland on loan from Manchester United as a 19-year-old, having already scored his maiden Premier League goal on his league debut for United in 2008. He was a player with a growing reputation in the game, but this loan would present the striker with his first opportunity to play regularly. The successful season on loan at Sunderland would open the door to a more regular first team place in Manchester, where he would stay until he moved to Arsenal in 2014.
Five injury hit seasons at Arsenal followed, where Welbeck only managed 88 league games, scoring 16 goals. Following the expiration of his Arsenal contract, Welbeck joined Watford in 2019 on a short-term deal. Here he managed two goals in 18 league appearances but found himself again on the move in October 2020. Since then he has been at Brighton, and the striker had his contract extended at the end of last season, securing another season on the south coast.
When Welbeck decides to retire he will be able to look back on a career where he won the Premier League title, as well as an FA Cup, and two EFL Cups. He has also played 42 times for England, scoring 16 goals in the process. He has featured in two World Cups and one European Championship for his country; his back heel goal in a 3-2 win over Sweden in Euro 2012 perhaps his stand out moment in an England shirt.
Welbeck joined Sunderland on 12th August 2010, with Alex Ferguson trusting Steve Bruce, then Sunderland manager, with the job of furthering the 19-year-old’s development. This would prove an incredibly beneficial move for all parties. Welbeck made his debut just two days after signing, coming off the bench in the 83rd minute in a 2-2 draw against Birmingham City. This would be the first of Welbeck’s 28 first team appearances in the 2010/11 season, having only made a handful of senior appearances in the top flight prior to that.
Welbeck was very raw and needed nurturing. He was joining a very strong Sunderland squad that included the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Darren Bent, Boudewijn Zenden, Stephane Sessegnon, and a fresh-faced Jordan Henderson. The club finished tenth in the Premier League that season, and Welbeck would have benefitted enormously from learning off of Bent and Gyan, in particular, who were regular goal scorers throughout their careers. In fact, Bent and Gyan would end the season as Sunderland’s top goal scorers, with 11 goals each in all competitions.
Welbeck always worked tirelessly, a trait he has maintained throughout his career, and was very lively whenever handed an opportunity by Bruce. His pace frightened defenders and also allowed him to play out wide as well as in a centre forward position. The future Premier League winner’s energy and desire to succeed soon endeared him to the Sunderland fans, and they were delighted when he scored his first goal in mid-November, especially as it secured a 3-0 victory away at Chelsea. This goal would start a run of four goals in three games, as Welbeck followed up his late goal at Stamford Bridge with a brace in a 2-2 draw at home to Everton and then a goal in a disappointing 3-2 defeat to Wolves.
Welbeck’s output didn’t always match his impressive performances, with only two more goals coming from the youngster that season. At times his finishing was rash and it was clear that areas of his game required refinement. However, his talent was abundantly clear, and there was increasing clamour for an England call up in early 2011. The injury problems that have ravaged the striker’s career were evident even at such a young age, and Welbeck missed parts of the season to various injuries, before an injury picked up in late April resulted in a premature return to his parent club to receive treatment.
This season-ending injury was disappointing for all involved, although it had not stopped Welbeck from forcing his way into Roy Hodgson’s England squad a month prior. He had made his debut against Ghana at Wembley, replacing Ashley Young in the 81st minute of a 1-1 draw. Coincidentally, Welbeck was also eligible to represent Ghana at international level but opted for England, where he had lived all his life.
While six goals in a season sounds like a modest return for a striker, especially considering the last of these came on January 1st 2011, for Welbeck’s first taste of regular Premier League football this loan spell was a resounding success. It was a loan spell which would have taught Welbeck invaluable lessons before returning to a club of the stature of Manchester United. Welbeck himself has claimed he “grew up” during his spell at the Black Cats.
In the season following the spell at Sunderland, Welbeck made 39 United appearances in all competitions, scoring twelve goals in total. There is no doubt that the spell on loan in the northeast paved the way for Welbeck to kick on at both United and for England, before injuries sadly robbed him of the opportunity to fulfil his potential. The striker seems settled at Brighton and, after a strong start to the season for the Seagulls, perhaps he could recapture his form on the south coast.