By Adam Crafton (Follow me on Twitter)
Nick Powell is the latest prodigy to be churned out of Crewe Alexandra’s prolific production line – one which Henry Ford himself would take huge pride in.
Although he will be following a familiar path – one successfully trodden down by Premier League stars including Robbie Savage, Neil Lennon, Danny Murphy and Dean Ashton – Powell dares to be different.
From Crewe’s laboratory of technical brilliance, Powell now moves on to another magnificent skill factory, to Manchester United’s hi-tech training complex mystically concealed in the Trafford countryside.
Some would naively believe that the hard part has been navigated. Powell by this stage has already attracted the attention of the most successful manager in the history of the English football, and been guided by Dario Gradi, the maestro in the nurture of young talent. Powell will now drop shoulders alongside Wayne Rooney, shimmy and feint with Ryan Giggs and perfect slide-rule passing with Paul Scholes.
In reality, the hardest part begins now; the mental battle. Can the 18 year old boy from Crewe, so used to being the star, the go-to man and the inspiration, adapt to being the prospect, the raw potential and possibly on the fringes? Certainly, it is unlikely that he has ever experienced the feeling of being inferior.
Powell has just finished his studies at Sandbach school and their Director of Football, Craig Malbon, tells Written Offside, “His peers were of course always inferior to him, and it would sometimes be difficult to pitch sessions to him because of the level he was used to playing at with Crewe but he was very sympathetic and supportive of the other lads”
The irony now, of course, is that a role reversal beckons. Powell will now need the support and guidance of the established Old Trafford stars. Being thrust into the Manchester United spotlight is not just a technical and physical challenge – it is an acid test of a player’s mental strength.
He has the ability, obviously. But so do the scores of players being meticulously produced by the Manchester United academy. Powell however, must dare to be different. He must show he can do it in front of 75,000 expectant supporters. He must take responsibility. He must be the man, who, under pressure, makes the difference and creates a better situation.
His performances for Crewe suggest that he can be that player. Fifteen goals in forty one games for Crewe in League Two last season is a hugely impressive return from a player who sometimes played in central midfield, but more often operated in that corridor of uncertainty between the opposition’s midfield and defence.
It is a little careless to dismiss Powell’s chances of making an immediate impact at Old Trafford on the grounds that he lacks experience above League 2 level. After all, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was playing in League 1 with Southampton just over twelve months ago. Fast-forward a year, and he has blossomed at European and International level. With the right care, and the correct attitude, that jump can be made.
The position which Powell excels in, as the number 10, is one reserved for only the most special of players. A position only for those players who demand the ball, who dictate football matches from an area of the pitch where the game should not, in theory, be controlled from, and who produce flourishes of individual brilliance – and his school football coach believes he has all those qualities in abundance.
“He has fantastic shooting ability as we have seen in the goals he has scored at Crewe. He has also been fortunate with the rate at which he has physically developed, he’s now over six foot and is blessed with such great balance, and a wonderful sense of gravity.” Malbon enthuses.
He is in the mould of that kind of player. Those graceful technicians who glide effortlessly like ice-skaters and instinctively seek out space and angles amongst the gangs of opponents.
Shades of Zinedine Zidane (whisper it quietly) were apparent in Powell’s performances in ‘the hole’ at times last season. The way in which Zidane would not only physically and technically overpower his opponents, but also force them to almost psychologically submit to him, granting him some kind of deference, was noticeable in some of Powell’s own displays – the aura, which elevates the greats above the rest.
It is, of course, a little early to be making such comparisons, but it is the ‘done thing’ these days to compare players and be excited about young talent. While some see flickers of Zidane in Powell, Malbon draws a comparison with another legend of the modern game.
“It is difficult to compare Nick to players in the sense that he so many great facets to his game. I really like his sense of gravity, his ability to shift the ball so quickly, and the Ronaldo step-overs. For me, that’s what sets him apart, the speed of his footwork is stunning really”
Again, it is some comparison.
But watching Powell evokes that kind of excitement – his final act as a Crewe player was to propel them to promotion, at Wembley, with a sublime volley on the turn from the edge of the area. He left the field that day to a standing ovation from those Crewe fans. They knew it was the end of his time with a club that Powell has been cultivated by since the age of 5. But they, like the rest of the country, will see plenty more of Powell in the future.
NICK POWELL BY NUMBERS
In 45 appearances by Nick Powell last season.....
116 - Shots taken
16 - Goals scored
8 - Assists
95 - Fouls Suffered
4 - Yellow Cards
1 - Red Card
What are your hopes and fears for Nick Powell? Could he make an impact in the first team? Please leave a comment below.
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