There Is Only One Local Hero In Manchester

The rising star of English football was just five years old when he begged an older boy who lived over the road to let him play in the games of street football that regularly took place outside their homes. Danny Welbeck has not forgotten the part Wes Brown, then a 16-year-old Manchester United trainee, played in his football education. And Brown has not forgotten the instant impression the younger boy made.

"We didn't encourage it at first, we thought Danny could get hurt. But the concern didn't last long, to be honest. Once Danny got started, you could see he was decent. He had the skills and he could look after himself," recalls Brown, who knew the rough nature of even the friendliest kickabout in inner-city Manchester.

On Sunday, those skills learned on the streets will see Welbeck step out at Old Trafford as the only born-and-bred local in the biggest Manchester derby for nearly 40 years - and no player among the 21 different nationalities on show will be treated with greater affection by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who has finally achieved his long-time ambition of discovering a great Mancunian striker for United.

Such was Ferguson's belief in Welbeck that he kept faith in the striker even when growth spurts left him weak, gangly and injury-prone. Five goals this season and a likely place in England's Euro 2012 squad show Ferguson's long-term instincts were right, particularly as the 6ft 3in hit man was picked ahead of Wayne Rooney for last weekend's game against Liverpool at Anfield.

"Welbeck always had great ability, but he made slow progress until he went to Sunderland on loan last season. That is when he grew up, became a man. He had knee problems growing up but we were always willing to wait for him. He's different, rangy and long-legged. Once he gets going, he gallops quickly. He has a great future," said Ferguson.

It is a sentiment echoed in FA quarters, too. "United deserve great credit. They are one of the best clubs at sticking with players like Danny when they're still physically maturing. And they have coupled that original patience with in-house training and successful loan periods to get to the point they are now," says head of elite development Gareth Southgate.

It all started for Welbeck at Markfield Avenue, a narrow, winding road of terraces and semis in the Manchester inner-city district of Longsight, an area most drive past in a hurry as they take the A6 south from the city centre towards Stockport. Its only remarkable feature is the ability to produce footballers. At No 42, with a United-red front door, lived the Browns. Wes, now at Sunderland, played for England as a teenager and won the Champions League with United. Youngest brother Reece is currently on United's books while another sibling, Clive, still lives on the road and plays non- League football for New Mills.

On the opposite side of the street (until their house was demolished to make way for a new playground area) were the Welbecks. Victor and Elizabeth had emigrated from Ghana and passed down Christian values to their three sons, Wayne (who plays for non- League Flixton), Christopher and football-daft Danny.

"It was always the Browns and the Welbecks playing football in the streets. Wes joined in when he could. It was a great set-up. We had two walls either side of the road as goals, and the ball hitting the kerb helped develop your control. Danny loved it all, even though he was the youngest; all he wanted to be was a striker," recalls Clive Brown.

Welbeck had started training with United at the age of eight. By 12, he had moved to Trinity High secondary school but with a football career mapped out in his head, there was no danger of him going off the rails in his teenage years. Head teacher David Ainsworth said:

"Danny was a quiet, polite boy. I never remember him getting into any type of trouble. He got 12 GCSEs and if he'd wanted to push himself academically, he would have been university material. He was modest about his football, too. I remember one lady PE teacher coming to me spitting feathers on one occasion, complaining that Danny was refusing to sprint 200metres in a Games lesson. I asked Danny why he'd refused and he said he was playing Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup semi-final that night. He just hadn't like to talk about it in front of the class. A few of us went to watch him at Old Trafford for the game and he scored the winning goal. He came into school the next day as usual and never mentioned it. I said something in assembly just so he'd get a round of applause because we were proud of him. He wouldn't milk it at all. I once went over with a ball and asked him to show me a few tricks, but he just shook his head very politely."

By the end of his time at Trinity, Welbeck would occasionally be away to play in overseas tournaments with United and England. But he still turned out for the school team when he could. Coach Darren Westmoreland recalls a cup game against Manchester Academy:

"They equalised with two minutes to go and, from kick-off, Danny went up the other end and scored the winner within 20 seconds. His attitude was great. He was used to working with the top coaches at Manchester United but if I asked him to play a certain way for the good of our team, he'd listen and do it."

At United, Welbeck made his debut at 17 but got fewer headlines than another teen sensation, Federico Macheda, who scored a goal against Aston Villa that famously helped United win the title. Behind the scenes, however, Ferguson always expected Welbeck to emerge as the main man. Successful loan spells at Preston and Sunderland have built confidence and this season he has established himself at Old Trafford. He was picked ahead of Rooney at Liverpool last weekend and most expect him to replace him again for the group games at Euro 2012.

The last word has to go to Brown, the neighbour who has known Welbeck all his life and also made the journey from Markfield Avenue to Manchester United, three miles in distance but a different planet in other respects. "Danny has the size, the power and the strength. He has the skill and the technical ability. He has the willingness to learn. He has it all, actually," says Brown.

Exclusively by Joe Bernstein

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