Danny Welbeck a golden oldie among England's young lions

 
Nicholas Earl
England v Costa Rica - International Friendly
Danny Welbeck has been selected by Gareth Southgate's England squad ahead of strikers playing regularly in the league (Source: Getty)

Gareth Southgate's calling up of precociously talented young guns Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho and James Maddison dominated the headlines when the England manager last week named his squad for upcoming Nations League games against Croatia and Spain.


Their addition to an already youthful party is partly a consequence of injuries to World Cup picks such as Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fabian Delph, which have left the midfield in need of fresh recruits. It is also typical of Southgate's trust in players with great potential, selecting them when he believes they are ready, sometimes showing more faith in them than even their own clubs do.

"It aligns with what we have done in the last 18 months," said Southgate. “We think there are some exciting young players that we've been tracking, either through their clubs or our junior teams. This is a great opportunity for us to look at them."

Read more: Fulham 1-5 Arsenal: Gunners rampant as optimism returns under Unai Emery

Yet the England manager's selections represented more than just a commitment to pursuing the greenest prospects on pastures new. Dotted around a squad adorned with the jewels of England's youth set-ups are stalwarts and steadfast servants of the national side, selected by Southgate even if they currently graze on the Premier League's hinterland, such as 27 year-old Arsenal forward Danny Welbeck.


This is testament to the balance Southgate seems to seek in his side, the expression of a steady demeanour otherwise exemplified through his continuity in formations and the careful stroking of his delicately trimmed beard. Alongside the potential combustibility of England's firecracker prospects, Southgate has sought a blend of strong characters, committed professionals and diligent players likely to be as beneficial to the team away from the pitch as they are when they seldom feature.

Arsenal v West Ham United - Premier League
Danny Welbeck has scored four goals for Arsenal this season despite largely featuring from the bench (Source: Getty)

Although Welbeck has predominantly played as an impact substitute for Arsenal in recent seasons, when injuries haven't marooned him on the club's treatment tables, his continued selection reflects a mutual respect between the player and his country. When he plays, he still comes up with the goods, scoring four goals for Arsenal this season and once for England this calendar year.

England have kept faith over the years in his ability to offer impetus in tight matches, to track back and put in a shift from wide positions when the team is on the back-foot, and the priceless potential to score goals when needed most. He has scored 16 goals from 42 appearances for the national team, with almost half of those caps coming off the bench. This is something that many club players struggle to accomplish on the international stage.

Nowadays, his involvement is representative of true professionalism rather than merely his playing qualities. He may have played against Spain in September in the first Nations League tie at Wembley, when he had a goal questionably ruled out for a foul on goalkeeper David de Gea, but few commentators expect him to play many minutes in the upcoming return match on Monday or away to Croatia this Friday.

Read more: Sancho, Maddison & Mount call-ups highlight Southgate's promotion of youth

But in a sporting era of volatility, a man who will commit to the team even if he isn't playing as much as he might like will always be highly regarded. Selected as a fourth choice striker at the World Cup in Russia last summer, a position that affects the morale of even the most loyal players, Welbeck would have had every right to feel aggrieved at his minimal role in England's intrepid dash to the semi-finals.

Unlike Jamie Vardy, a man further up the striking pecking order, Welbeck did not retire after the disappointment of reduced game time, despite the Arsenal man making only one appearance off the bench against Belgium in the group stages.

Welbeck's continued position in the England squad may be overshadowed by the emergence of a new generation of stars. He may only be mentioned by those who question his right to be in the squad. Much like at Arsenal, where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will take most the plaudits and start the lion's share of games, Welbeck may struggle for game time with Harry Kane in the England set-up. But he will always be there, ready to play a role for the country he has committed himself to throughout his career.

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