By James Goldman at Wembley
It is a debate that has raged ever since Wayne Rooney’s right foot acquainted itself with the calf of Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic’s calf in England’s final Euro 2012 qualifying match.
On Saturday, Danny Welbeck provided a convincing, if not emphatic, argument to suggest he is the man to deputise for the suspended talisman against France in a little over a week’s time.
That England are forced to rely on a talent as raw as Welbeck, who 18 months ago was still mulling over whether to commit to Ghana or not, speaks volumes for the lack of options Roy Hodgson has at his disposal.
A week ago, in Oslo, Andy Carroll gave a passable impression of an international footballer but his considerable presence, regardless of best intentions, will always lend itself to a more agricultural style of play.
The Liverpool man has somewhat unfairly been pigeonholed as a lumbering target man, his end of season renaissance with Liverpool proved there was more to his game than a crash, bang, wallop approach on which he built his reputation at Newcastle.
The urge to get the ball forward quickly, however, is a temptation too strong for many of England’s more limited players to resist.
Welbeck is perfectly equipped to play the lone ranger in England’s attack. Lythe, energetic, sure of touch and fleet of foot, he offers pretty much everything that Carroll does not
Go long. Go home. That has been the recipe for failure in recent times and England cannot afford to be lulled into thinking that Carroll’s hulking frame will be enough to destabilise defenders as composed as those who they will face in Ukraine.
A more subtle approach will be required if England are to garner anything against Laurent Blanc’s men in their Group D opener in Donetsk. With one nonchalant stab of his left foot, Welbeck suggested he is the man Hodgson must look to shape his attack around in the absence of Rooney.
The new Wembley will have seen few more accomplished finishes than the one the 21-year-old manufactured 10 minutes from the interval in a game that provided a pretty fair reflection of what we can expect to see at the Donbass Arena a week on Monday – a technically superior side bossing possession against well-drilled opponents who will look to strike on the break.
With the pattern of England’s tournament seemingly already set in stone Welbeck is perfectly equipped to play the lone ranger in England’s attack. Lythe, energetic, sure of touch and fleet of foot, he offers pretty much everything that Carroll does not.
Moreover, his relationship and understanding with the increasingly influential Ashley Young, a bond forged at club level with Manchester United, even more than his finishing prowess, makes him the standout candidate.
Young has now assisted or scored 11 of England’s last 20 goals and the weight of the pass which presented his club colleague with the opportunity to delicately lift the ball over Simon Mingolet neatly encapsulated the improvement in his game since to he graduated from Aston Villa to the more demanding environment of Old Trafford.
Jermain Defoe, who was mightily unlucky not to double England’s advantage late on with an angled shot that crashed against the far post, seems destined to be limited to the role of bit-part player, while Theo Walcott, despite his and Arsene Wenger’s belief, still lacks the physical qualities to thrive, or indeed survive, in a more central role.
Sir Alex Ferguson, clearly, is a shrewd judge of a player. That Welbeck relegated a player of Javier Hernandez’s stature and class to the substitutes’ bench for large swathes of the season just gone should speak volumes.
Indeed, minus Welbeck in the season-defining Manchester derby United lacked punch and personality and were easily snuffed out. It was, arguably, one of the greatest oversights of Sir Alex’s Old Trafford tenure.
Welbeck, like this England side, is very much a work in progress, but right now his country needs him.