By Simon Hughes
Going back a few years will uncover a number of players who, having spent their formative years at Old Trafford, became surplus to requirements before finding their way in South Cheshire.
The likes of David Platt and Robbie Savage were names that famously enjoyed a renaissance under Dario Gradi’s stewardship before going onto greater things.
It was a link that seemingly only flowed one-way; with Crewe picking up Manchester United’s unwanted youngsters.
That was until 16-year-old Nick Powell rolled off the Alex production line.
Before even pulling on a first-team shirt, Powell was tipped for big things and even touted as the best ever product of Crewe’s highly regarded conveyor belt of youth talent that included the likes of Seth Johnson, Danny Murphy and Dean Ashton, to name a few.
Powell was soon grabbing the headlines and after forcing his way into the first-team permanently aged just 17, there was no shortage of Premier League scouts monitoring Powell’s early progress with the Railwaymen.
Powell progressed quickly from the subs bench to spearhead the Alex’s successful promotion campaign to League One. With over 50 first-team appearances and England Under-18 honours under his belt, it was therefore no surprise that with a host of Premier League clubs chasing his signature, Powell elected to sign for United before the season had even concluded.
A memorable goal at Wembley, his 16th of the season, was the perfect way for Powell to end a remarkable Crewe career, before making the seemingly improbable leap to join United.
Nevertheless Powell has the raw talent and potential to be a hit amongst United’s star studded outfit. Despite finishing the 2011-12 season as Crewe’s leading goal scorer, Powell is widely regarded as a more natural central midfield prospect and it was Gradi himself who tagged Powell in the Steven Gerrard mould rather than the marauding forward. It is perhaps a nod to his overall talents and adaptability that Powell was able to take on the role in Crewe’s frontline with such venom and appetite.
It’s clear that Alex Ferguson also sees the 18-year-old’s future in central midfield, yet Powell’s versatility is probable one of the reasons why he is held in such high regard by Ferguson.
Powell may have to be patient and bide his time at United after just two seasons in League 2, but Powell has shown glimpses that even as a relatively unexposed teenager, he has the skills to grace any stage.
Even in the basement division, Powell has demonstrated his immediate class; a 30-yard right-foot bomb had Gillingham fans applauding before a sublime volley five minutes later, this time with his left, had them stunned.
Even so, whilst even the great goals have looked effortless, Powell’s strengths perhaps lie in his ability to leave defenders trailing with a whole arsenal of flicks and step-overs, whilst the youngster is also blessed with a fleeting turn-of-pace which has had opposing players reeling.
Make no mistake, whilst Powell has great potential, he is by no means the finished product. As with any 18-year-old, there are areas of Powell’s game that require natural progression, such as consistency, before he is able realise his full future potential, so it is perhaps fitting that he has joined a club where his development will be allowed to continue and no doubt flourish.
This is of course a big step to take, not just in terms of playing at a higher level but also the increased attention that comes with joining an elite club. However it is not outside of the realms of possibility to think of Powell entering the first-team fray at some point in the near future.
He certainly has the determination and desire to go beyond what is expected of him at this stage and if his former mentor’s predictions are true, don’t bet against Powell winning full international honours before too long, he is that good – though at this stage Powell’s single focus should be on making it as a United player.
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