Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck, England's yin and yang

Michael Regan

Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck have had their ups and downs in recent years, but it seems the Manchester United and Liverpool forwards are diametrically opposed, inverted clones of the same hypothetically perfect player. England might as well try playing them together.

When I agreed to write this column for SB Nation, I negotiated into my contract the right to use personal pronouns in once a year, and I think the time has finally come to deploy the clause. In order to make full use of it, it's a personal anecdote that took place at a party, in Sheffield, three years ago.

While I was there, a friend-of-a-friend noticed me talking to someone, and said "You're a United fan, aren't you? You know he went to school with Danny Welbeck?" Posed with the chance to learn some personal details about one of United's young homegrown stars in his youth, I went back up to the man in question and asked him about it. "What was he like?" He paused for a moment in contemplation, then had a moment of realisation. "Sporty", he replied. And then left.

It kind of sums up Welbeck's clean-cut, flat-topped image - it's impossible to imagine him ever being described as "typically outspoken", or having nasty rumours circulate during a lengthy injury lay-off, or, despite his modest tally, having his season's goalscoring record compared to the number of children he has. He's not going to win any personality of the year awards, but he's a lot more fun than, say, Michael Owen, while not possessing any of the ills of his colleagues.

Conversely, Daniel Sturridge, one of his competitors in the England team, has had to rely on Steven Gerrard to make the case for his defence this week in response to claims about his "arrogance", which had irritated fans at both of his previous clubs. Sure, it's not Lee Hughes level stuff, but it represents one part of a continued strange contrast with his opposite number.

There was a time when he and Daniel Sturridge were both playing well and coming onto the England scene, looking like inverted clones of the same player, cutting inside from opposite flanks and scoring important goals while generally being tricky. Then Welbeck became of increasing importance to Manchester United and England, while Sturridge's form for Chelsea faltered.

Then, another odd phase in Welbeck's development began as he started appearing all over the place on United teamsheets - usually on the wings, but in a variety of roles, sometimes dropped in behind, often picked for a defensive role. The goals were still good, and important - an away goal in the Santiago Bernabeu by a homegrown youngster is a moment on which a price can't be put - but his impact waned, and his style changed.

Until then, United's strikers operated from a simple blueprint identified by It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia but beloved of many teams around the world long before then - The A-team, Ghostbusters, Clement Attlee's postwar Labour cabinet. Dimitar Berbatov, and later Robin van Persie, were the brains. Wayne Rooney was the muscle. Javier Hernandez was the looks. And Danny Welbeck was the wildcard. Capable of anything, an ingenious run, pass and touch or 30-yarder one minute, falling over his own feet the next.

Wayne Rooney's fallout with the club, however, and generally inconsistent form and fitness led to him instead being cast in that role, so Welbeck was required to take his place as the muscle. Where previously there was imagination and flair, there was now grit, determination and tactical awareness. Around the same time, Daniel Sturridge moved to Liverpool and began to be a key part of a surprisingly exciting forward line.

The only conclusion that we can possibly draw from this is that Sturridge and Welbeck represent England's yin and yang, a duality of two opposing forces never to be aligned. All the great dualities of English football are within the two of them, but forever changing with time - grit and flair, arrogance and determination, left-footed and right-footed, Manchester United and Liverpool, the formal Daniel versus the charming, homespun Danny. When one plays well, the other struggles. This is probably why the two have never been risked together in partnership for the national side, but it's worth taking the gamble of a rift opening which swallows Wembley and everybody within its walls whole.

If Welbeck and Sturridge are a Gerrard-Lampard combination for the next generation, then at least it shows some progress for England - not only are they far more exciting players, but they could also have exactly what it takes to play together, when properly balanced and both playing merely sort-of-alright. They represent the two distinct sides of the hypothetical complete footballer that England can conceive of but never possess. It's likely both will feature tonight, albeit out of position - cast a solitary tear for what could be.

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