I was asked a couple of years back which other player Danny reminded me of the most and, without pausing for breath, I replied: “Henry” because he did … a little bit. It was met with such unexpectedly high levels of derision that, to save face; to pretend I wasn’t wounded – and that in fact I felt I should be the one laughing at them, not the other way around; that they were the ones who’d gotten it so catastrophically wrong – I had no choice: no choice but to forego my usual equanimity. From that point onwards, where Danny was concerned, I went dark; darker even than that: fluorescent dark, I’m talking real messed up. I trained myself to make reference to Danny’s similarities with Henry whenever there was the slightest hint of one, and especially where there wasn’t; the obscurer the better. I was the saline drip (Oi! Who said without the saline?!) of the Welbeck Trust, slowly administering the comparison into their bloodstream. The problem was, these other people were armed with antibodies and things; things like facts and evidence and strong opinions and relatively well articulated arguments, not to mention bitterness, bad manners and I’m pretty sure I saw all of them steal from the ‘dogs for the blind’ box at the bar – and so you see, being as I am, oil to their water – armed with only love and hope – I had no choice.
If anyone so much as owned, let alone raised, an eyebrow when Danny was unfortunate enough to have mistimed an attempt on goal on account of all that overt dynamicness (“scuffed a pea-roller harmlessly wide from eight yards”), they’d have me coming at ‘em like a distressed seagull (only with a beard and therefore more handsome): “YOU REALLY THINK HENRY SCORED EVERY TIME HE TOOK A SHOT?! WELL DO YOU?! ANSWER ME?!” I’d say, but cleverer than that and with some longer words in it, I don’t remember which ones, it’s not important. Friends. Family. Children. Pets. Inanimate objects. Objects. Lists of objects. No-one or nothing was gonna have a bad word to say about Danny with Henry getting away with it. All the time I was crossing my fingers under the table – hoping that I just had to wait it out.
Loving Danny is easy, ‘cus he’s beautiful. I love Danny to bits. Loads of United fans do. Some don’t, but that’s something they’ll grow out of, so long as they can outrun the released hounds. It’s a no-brainer. He’s stockpiling boxes for us to tick as we speak. However, it’s not traitorous to note that his finishing has lacked the consistency we’d all perhaps wished he’d have by now and that when in full slalom, the ball occasionally intertwines itself betwixt his feet more by happy accident than design. When you’ve fallen in love with someone though, these little things are nothing more than adorable idiosyncrasies: “It’s no biggy Danny, we still love yer,” we whisper into our cups of tea. Besides, we’ve all seen enough of Danny’s finishing, when it is more instinctive, or of confident mind, and enough penetrating runs with the ball absolutely in control, to recognise these as mere wrinkles that he’ll iron out over time, rather than something terminal.
Those people I used to hang out with have since moved on to sit at a different table in the pub, and so with Danny in the ascendancy, and receiving praise from all corners this summer, I thought I’d reiterate my feelings regarding the Henry comparison on Twitter, to see if I could recruit some digital allies. The abuse was swift, stealth like; amongst it a couple of death threats (hastily retracted) and some jip from United fans: “#Idiotz lik u giv us a bad gnome…”, etc. My tweet went something like this (actually, this is it verbatim): “Danny is better than Henry was when he first moved to Arsenal. Henry moved to Arsenal when he was 22 years old.” The implication being, that, in my opinion (already implied in being posted from my Twitter account), Danny is better than Henry was – and this is the key part – when Henry FIRST moved to Arsenal. Also implicit in the comparison, is that the two players’ ages are the same, at the point of their respective careers being referred to: Danny now, Henry then. So it’s not entirely impossible for me to stretch my imagination and picture Danny getting somewhere close to achieving the amazing things that Henry has. It was a compliment to Henry. Of course, we don’t see tweets as they are, but as we are.
Inevitably I was also inundated with more of those ‘things’ – all up in my chops again. The things like facts and that. So, I thought I’d try some of that there research myself; yuck. And yet. And yet…
Y’know, it turns out, Henry scored just three goals in sixteen games for Juventus, the season before he joined Arsenal, after being asked to play ‘out of position’ as a winger (sounds familiar). Combining this with his scoring record for Monaco – and therefore encompassing his professional career to that point – his goals tally was just above one in every five games. So, if we then cross-reference this with Danny’s goal tally up to this point (not including the two against Swansea) it’s … oh … wait … just above one in five. There’s more … the internet stores this stuff – who knew?! Just before moving to Arsenal, Henry had broken into the French national side and, on his first appearance at a major tournament, finished as their top scorer. Danny happened to make the ‘step up’ to international level much earlier in his career than Henry, relatively speaking, and … oh … wait … also became his national side’s top scorer in his first major tournament. Hey, that wasn’t so bad.
With regards to Henry: I wasn’t that convinced by him at first, and I know that Arsenal fans I was friends with at the time (reluctantly and probably under duress and certainly never in public places), felt the same. He was seen as something of a ‘poor man’s’ replacement for he-of-the-upside-down-smile, who was Real bound having burned Wenger’s cookies once too often. He proved me, and a lot of other people, wrong. That first season he went on to score 26 goals, no mean feat; especially in light of the fact that he initially took time to settle. The rest is Premier League history. I think, scooched in next to Eric, Scholesy and Giggsy, Henry rightly takes his seat in the pantheon of Premier League stars. I would have absolutely loved him at United. The point being though (it’s in here somewhere), that a career viewed retrospectively, with the benefit of hindsight, does not my comparison quash.
Course, it’s not that I really think Danny is the new Henry: Henry is Henry, Danny is Danny. When I first made the comparison, it was to do with something about the way they both collected the ball – with a similar physicality – and shifted it on; something about the positions they took up; something about the runs they made; something about the types of shots they shape for. But more, it was something about wanting Danny to realise his potential and become one of the best players the Premier League has ever seen, and that is what it’s always been about.
I’ve put a bet on Danny winning Player of the Year, not because I necessarily think he will – though I do necessarily think he will – but because he makes me feel giddy; he gives me hope. As I’ve written before, hope is seen by some as a negative, as delusional, but I see hope as a catalyst, a stimulant, that inspires to better things, and so, I really hope that in fourteen years time we’re talking about Danny Welbeck in the same breath as Thierry Henry.