Danny Welbeck’s appearance for England against Ghana on Tuesday night has cemented his place in the England setup, seemingly for the remainder of his career. Although FIFA rules allow youngsters who have only played friendlies to switch allegiance, it does not look like Welbeck will be answering the call of Ghana in the near future. Will Danny go on to enjoy a long and successful career or will he, like a number of internationals in recent years, forever look back on his one solitary cap?
His pedigree would certainly suggest not. A Manchester United player since the age of 15, he enjoyed successful loan spells with Preston North-End last season and Sunderland this, where he has struck six goals. He also scored a wonderful goal on his Premier League debut for United, in a 5-0 win against Stoke City. He has now represented England at every level from U-21 upward, and with Sir Alex Ferguson champing at the bit to fit Welbeck into next seasons squad, he will certainly have every opportunity to impress Fabio Capello.
That said, it hasn’t always taken much to impress Capello. A run of Championship goals early this season was enough to propel Jay Bothroyd into the England squad and eventually onto the pitch for a friendly against France. England were outclassed in the first half but fought back and, had Bothroyd been slightly more fortunate with a loose ball in the box, he might have stabbed home an equalizer.
Bothroyd, like Welbeck, has represented England at every youth level but, crucially, his graduation to the senior squad was not immediate. Nine turbulent years elapsed between his final under-21 appearance and his senior bow, and Welbeeck will hope that his immediate graduation works to his advantage. Bothroyd is also disadvantaged by the emergence of Andy Carroll. The two players fit such similar roles that Bothroyd is unlikely to get the nod alongside or ahead of Carroll.
Kevin Davies is another one-cap wonder who seems doomed now that Carroll has staked his claim. Called up for the qualifier against Montenegro, he became England’s oldest debutant for 60 years when he came on for Peter Crouch. After picking up his customary yellow card and causing some problems, it looked likely that Davies would continue to be a wildcard for the remainder of the campaign, but instead has found himself cast out once more.
Bobby Zamora is another player who seems destined to frustration at the hands of Carroll, but injury has also played just as much of a part in his inability to make the England squad before or since his solitary cap against Hungary. A sterling run of form saw his Fulham team reach the UEFA cup final and Capello reach for the phone, but aged 30 and injury prone the chances of him adding to his cap are slim.
Welbeck, fortunately, is a different type of player. Although it is likely that he will be competing with Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young amongst others for a place on the England flank, his versatility serves him well, and he could find himself slotting into any number of roles, flexibility that Davies, Zamora and Bothroyd were unable to offer.
Injury proved to be more of a handicap to Dean Ashton. He was called up in 2006, but broke his ankle in England training shortly before making his debut. After returning to partial fitness and making one apperance against Trinidad and Tobago, the ankle injury eventually took it’s toll, and he was forced to retire aged 26, unable to recover fully.
Danny Welbeck so far has had no real injury problems in his career, beyond the usual aches and pulls suffered by still-growing young men when they first break into professional football teams.
The most notorious one-cap wonder of recent years was Francis Jeffers. Signed by Arsene Wenger to be Arsenals you know what in the you know where, his career went spectacularly flat. Jeffers shares the England U-21 goalscoring record with Alan Shearer, but can now be found plundering goals for Motherwell. His England debut came in Sven Goran Erkisson’s friendly defeat to Australia, where he managed a goal, which means that barring a phoenix-from-the-flames return to form he will retire with a perfect international strike rate.
Steve McLaren also found a perfect international striker in the form of David Nugent. Like Bothroyd, Nugent was called into the England squad whilst enjoying a rich vein of form in the Championship, and came off the bench with England 2-0 up away to Andorra in their doomed Euro 2008 qualification campaign. With the last kick of the game, Nugent was able to poke the ball across the line literally millimeters out, snatching a goal from Jermain Defoe.
So far, Danny Welbeck shows no sign of a horrific loss of form, such as that suffered by Francis Jeffers or, equally notably, Michael Ricketts. However, whilst Jeffers decline had begun before his international bow, Ricketts made his international debut at what would prove to be the height of his powers. After scoring goals against Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea in his debut season, he was handed a start against the Netherlands. Woefully out of his depth, his shocking performance seemed to mortally wound his confidence, and just four years later he was signing for Southend, and is currently without a club.
It is this loss of form that Welbeck needs to keep at bay. With his Manchester United upbringing, he will have the mental toughness and be grounded enough to keep working and keep playing, and sure enough, more caps are certain to follow. Many a failed career is highlighted by a solitary England cap, but Danny Welbeck boasts every attribute needed to ensure that his is not amongst them.