Welbeck ready to lead EnglandComment on this story
Krakow, Poland – Fourteen years after a teenage Michael Owen cut a swathe through Argentina's defence at the 1998 World Cup, Danny Welbeck is dreaming of making a similar impact for England at Euro 2012.
Owen's electrifying run and goal in St Etienne is Welbeck's earliest memory of watching England, and the 21-year-old has since been able to learn directly from the veteran predator during the past three seasons at Manchester United.
Just as Owen did in 1998, Welbeck has made a late run to force his way into England's starting line-up, establishing himself as Roy Hodgson's first-choice on the eve of the tournament with a goal in the 1-0 win over Belgium.
Welbeck got his first taste of major tournament football in Monday's 1-1 draw with France in Donetsk and is now determined to cement his place in the England set-up.
“It's something I've worked towards since I was a little kid,” he said. “You want to be playing games at the highest level. Now that I'm here I'm really proud and I want to develop my game and go as far as I can.”
“I've been put in a position now to lead the line for England and it's not something I'm scared of. 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.”
Had things turned out differently, Welbeck might have been pursuing an international career for Ghana.
However although the Ghanaian football authorities were keen on the youngster representing the country of his parents' birth, it was never a serious option for the Manchester-born Welbeck.
“I've been playing for England since I was 14 and it felt like a natural progression to step up to the senior side.”
Although United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had tipped him for a place in England's 2010 World Cup squad as long ago as 2009, Welbeck had to wait until March last year before making his senior England debut.
Unsurprisingly, Ferguson has been a major influence on Welbeck's development.
“He has shown a lot of faith in me,” the striker said. “He's always been there for me to go to for advice. He'll speak to me about everything. To have him looking over me is very beneficial.”
Welbeck has also been able to glean daily lessons on the art of attacking during training at United, working alongside England team-mates Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young as well as Owen, who has since been released by the club.
“There was Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney and obviously I've had a chance to grow up with them, watching them and training with them,” Welbeck said.
“I've got some tips off them as well, I've watched them in training to see how they work their stuff.”
Rooney has been particularly helpful, the striker said.
“He's always there giving me advice on and off the pitch. Just before the games, at half-time and everything. I'm glad to be around him.”
“He's just always there just letting you know what to do in the games, or if he's seen a weakness in the opposition how you can exploit that.”
Welbeck's relaxed demeanour also suggests stage fright is unlikely to be a problem in future.
“It's something that I love, football, and I don't see any need to worry about anything, really,” he said.
“Football's football. You're going to come across the good and the bad, but you've got to take it in your stride.” – Sapa-AFP