They’re examples of bravery. With promising young careers ahead of them, they hurled themselves out of the comfortable nests they’d been reared in to try their luck in the big, wide world.
While so many aspiring footballers desperately cling to a dream of making it at Manchester United or Liverpool, they removed themselves from their comfort zones and sought glory elsewhere.
For 18-year-old Sancho, his route is very peculiar, yet one which is becoming increasingly more common among budding British talents. The London-born teenager is a product of Watford’s youth academy yet has gained more stardom for the fact he left Premier League behemoths Manchester City in the summer of 2017 to sign for Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
And he hasn’t looked back. Though in the early throes of his career, he is lighting up the Bundesliga – eight goals and a joint league-leading 10 assists in 23 appearances so far this season.
It perhaps never exploded in such fashion for Welbeck. Despite still being only 28 and a big part of Arsene Wenger’s – and now Unai Emery – Arsenal squad, his has taken a sideways, perhaps even a backwards, step since leaving United five years ago.
In 142 appearances during six fledgling seasons at his boyhood club he scored 29 goals and won five trophies. In 126 outings for the Gunners in the ensuing five campaigns, he has netted 32 goals, and lifted two pieces of silverware.
Still, all of this, plus 16 goals in 42 England caps, hardly constitutes failure. Welbeck’s career has and continues to be blighted by injury.
He is recuperating from the latest one – a serious ankle injury sustained in November – when he patiently waits to speak to assembled media one by one in the confines of The Sevens Stadium on the outskirts of Dubai, where the Gunners’ UAE-based Arsenal Soccer Schools flourishes.
Lazily label him wasted talent. He has been part of Three Lions squads at the two previous World Cups, as well as at Euro 2012, with only a knee injury seeing him miss out on Euro 2016.
And being part of the young revolution being orchestrated by Gareth Southgate is something Welbeck was – in Russia last summer as they reached the World Cup semi-finals – and is, excited by. The tone has been set for the future.
“It was great to be a part of that in the summer,” said Welbeck.
“Getting that far in the competition, we wanted to get further. But I think the camaraderie in the group was great. With the young players coming in and being integrated into the side, that’s what the manager did really well.
“It was a good time and it is a good time for English football now. We want to push on and keep on improving – the standard has been set in the summer.”
He and Sancho have certainly set their own standard. Whether or not it is catching fire like Sancho is doing right now, or existing at the elite level but still somewhat out in the cold like Welbeck seems to be, both players took a chance and can have no regrets.
It’s not always an easy decision to make, to strike out on your own. In fact, it’s a tremendously difficult thing, to admit you’re not going to make it – or at least get the chance – at a big club. Cutting the cord willingly happens so rarely.
Think of some of the names in recent years predicted to be the ‘next big thing’ in English football, yet who never quite cut it. Lee Sharpe, Josh McEachran, Jack Rodwell, Tom Huddlestone, Kieron Dyer, David Bentley, John Bostock, Scott Sinclair, Tom Ince.
All of them promised much coming through the youth ranks of United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton et el, or earning big money moves to the same clubs. Yet even though most of them carved out credible careers, they never hit the heights once promised.
While Welbeck is closing in on a half century of England caps, Sancho is taking baby steps. He earned his first three towards the tail end of 2018 – making his bow on the international stage in the UEFA Nations League fixture against Croatia in October.
He is doing well and was named by Southgate in his 25-man squad for the upcoming, opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
Southgate’s exciting new project – focusing on youth – continues with the inclusion of Sancho, as well as recently converted Republic of Ireland youth international Declan Rice, Trent Alexander-Arnold (both 20) and Ben Chilwell (22).
And even though it is not exactly the same path he took, Welbeck is proud of Sancho for taking a risk.
“I think he’s started incredibly well,” Welbeck said of one of England’s, and indeed football’s, brightest young stars.
“He left City at a young age and went to a different country. He’s made some great strides out there and been called up to the national team.
“He’s become a pivotal figure for Dortmund and is doing incredibly well. That’s good for English football and what the English people want to see.
“He’s taken a different route to what a lot of other players have done, so it shows there’s another way to do it. Everyone’s incredibly proud of him but we want him to push on and keep pushing himself to be the best he can be, because he’s a great talent.”
Another young man in Southgate’s squad, yet someone with a much larger profile already, is Marcus Rashford. Although still only 21 he is fully established at club level with United, where he has already surpassed Welbeck’s 142 appearances, with 160 games under his belt despite playing barely three seasons. With 31 he is only 11 England caps shy of Welbeck.
Longsight-born Welbeck is well aware of Wythenshawe native Rashford from their time together at United, with Welbeck revealing he was told about his fellow forward’s burgeoning talent by his older brother Chris, who is friends with Rashford’s older sibling, Dwaine.
Rashford’s rise owes a lot to the Welbeck family in general – Chris is a director at Markfield Sports Management and helped negotiate Rashford’s new contract when he burst onto the scene in that glowing 2015/16 campaign.
Welbeck added: “I knew of Marcus from a young age, when I was at United. His big brother and my big brother are friends so we had a sort of connection there and I knew him and the talent he possessed.
“My brother was always telling me about him and I met him when he was a young boy. He’s gone on and in the last few months under the new manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he’s really got those opportunities playing in that central position and he’s been doing really well.
“I hope it continues and he gets even better.”
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