By Shane Bailey (follow me on Twitter)
|Nick is introduced to the new United tablecloth|
Manchester United this week completed the signing of teen sensation Nick Powell from Crewe. Powell, one of the hottest properties in domestic football, had a host of potential suitors. That he chose United represents further evidence, should it be needed, that our club remains the most appealing destination to young British talent. At United, if you’re good enough, age is not an obstacle to the first team. Players know it, and we have every reason to be proud of it.
The Old Trafford faithful have always appreciated the beauty of youth. There is a romance to nurturing and developing young players, whether they are graduates of the academy or those recruited from elsewhere. Unfortunately, it has to be acknowledged that increasingly such deals have less to do with romance, and owe more to basic financial realism. We simply can’t compete for the established stars of the day anymore. Instead, the focus of our attention has to be unearthing the stars of tomorrow. Where once we could rely on the history of the club and the promise of trophies to lure the game’s biggest names, we have to now concede that the money on offer elsewhere is more appealing. For that reason, our sights have to be set on a different kind of target. Thankfully, for some like Powell, the appeal of the club remains as strong as ever.
So what of young Powell? What kind of player have we invested in? The simple answer is a very talented one. It’s not realistic to think we’ll see him in the Premier League anytime soon. But I’m hopeful that United might just have struck gold again. Powell undoubtedly has a touch of class and a swagger that suggests he’s unlikely to be intimidated by the Old Trafford stage when he gets his chance. One of those players that always appears to have time and space – when all around seem rushed and crowded. He has an awareness of those around him, and a touch that enables him to not just see, but deliver. He’s a fabulously clean striker of the ball too. He’s tall, and has a languid style. He could lead the line or be equally comfortable in midfield. But ultimately his home will surely be the space in between. ‘In the hole’ is where he’s destined to shine.
Of course, all this is based on a few glimpses of him amidst the cut and thrust of League 2. It’s a long way from there to the Premiership, but just occasionally you catch a glimpse of a player that stands out to such an extent as to demand closer attention. In the games I’ve seen, he’s looked head and shoulders above those around him, and carries a demeanour that suggests he knows it. At 18 he’s dictating games, and that’s impressive at any level. Amongst superior players, he might just find things even easier.
With regards his short-term prospects at United, there has to be a chance he’ll be sent out on loan. It’s historically proven to be Fergie’s preferred method of development and if he does select that option, I’d like to think we can find a suitable destination in the Championship. A loan back to Crewe in League 1 does not offer sufficient benefits to United or the player. Alternatively of course, Sir Alex might prefer to integrate him into life at Old Trafford immediately. The sooner he’s comfortable in those surroundings the better. If he does, my guess is he’ll be in the Carling Cup squad from the outset. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see him featuring from the bench in the Premier League before the end of next season.
Some people may question the £6m price tag, but I’m personally glad the club have backed their instincts on this one. We’ve missed out on a couple of other high-profile teens in recent times simply because other clubs have demonstrated greater courage. Of course mistakes can be made, but it’s much easier for supporters to deal with poor signings than missed opportunities. My guess is we’ll not regret this one.
Check out Nick Powell in action for Crewe last season
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