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Nick Powell Refinds His Feet at Wigan and Stirs a Few Memories

Nick Powell Refinds His Feet at Wigan and Stirs a Few Memories

Thursday, 30 August, 2018 - 06:15
Nick Powell of Wigan Athletic celebrates after equalising in last weekend’s 3-2 defeat at Aston Villa. Photograph: TGSPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock
London - Ben Fisher
In a candid interview a couple of years ago, Nick Powell discussed how he felt at being perceived as a lost cause, a maverick and a nuisance. An exceptional talent, his ability has never been doubted but Powell was a player at pains to prove he could reach the heights he was supposed to reach. Described by Sir Alex Ferguson as the heir to Paul Scholes’s throne on joining Manchester United as an 18-year-old, he is playing with a freedom again, enjoying a kind of renaissance at Wigan.

Speaking to those who have worked with Powell, now 24, at close-quarters, there are a few recurring themes; having a young family helped him mature and as a player he clearly needs to be loved but, above all, he is a specialist at producing the spectacular. Powell glides gracefully past defenders and his show reel would rival the best of them. Heavily scouted before Ferguson and his then assistant Mike Phelan watched him play for Crewe against Aldershot in May 2012, the Scot was sold inside five minutes and two months later he was unveiled alongside Shinji Kagawa.

Staff at United were convinced that a goal on his league debut – ironically against Wigan – was just the start of things to come. Scott Wootton, now with Plymouth, recalling their time together at United, says: “He had a great start but never really got a run. Obviously it was very difficult because the team that year won the league. He was never going to play with the amount of players in front of him at such a high level, so experience and injuries meant he never really got properly fit.”

Powell scored 15 goals and set up six more as Wigan lifted the League One title last season and has followed that up with two goals in his first two games this time. He first impressed at Wigan on loan five years ago and following his release from United after a handful of appearances in four years, Gary Caldwell made him his first signing in 2016.

“I just think he’s a game-changer – he will win games for you at any level,” the former Wigan manager says. “He’s somebody you have to constantly challenge, the game comes too easy to him sometimes. If you’re just doing a simple drill, he can almost get bored because he is so talented.

“I remember one day we had trained at the stadium – and the training was poor, to be honest, and I had had a go at the players – he suddenly scored from what must have been about 40 yards past Jussi Jaaskelainen and everyone just thought: ‘Wow, did he just do that?’ He has that ability to do the unexpected.”

Wootton adds: “He would score goals in training that would be just an absolute joke, 30- or 40-yarders into the top corner. Physically, he is a lot stronger than people think, he is a lot quicker than people think; he has a great change of speed. He can dominate games when he wants to, and at the flick of a switch.”

Among them, a preposterous, swerving 35-yard effort, with minimal backlift, against Gillingham and a sumptuous strike against Cheltenham at Wembley in the 2012 play-off final. He spun on the edge of the box before lashing home an exquisite half-volley – his last act in a Crewe shirt but a fitting legacy, in many ways, for fans to hold on to before his £6m move to Old Trafford that summer.

In the Crewe goal that day, Steve Phillips watched it all the way. “All I do remember is not being surprised that it went in,” he says. “He scored some phenomenal goals and that was still when he was just a kid really. He was about 16 when I first joined Crewe; he trained with the first team at a very young age and straight away had that arrogance which you need to be a top player. Sometimes that went a little bit too far but his ability and the speed of his thinking was way ahead of anything I’ve ever seen. He was on another level. In my head, I always, always thought he would play for England. The experience he has gained from that switch to United – good and bad – playing with the quality of those players, all of that is invaluable for him to get back to that level, which he is absolutely capable of doing.”

Powell, described by Caldwell as an introvert, is at home at Wigan, thriving under Paul Cook but given he is arguably in the best form of his career he has naturally attracted interest, notably from Brighton.

His former manager at Crewe, Steve Davis, puts him in the same bracket as Dele Alli, adamant Powell, too, can go on and play for his country, especially after appearing to put a stop-start run of niggling muscular injuries behind him. Caldwell concurs. “He still has the potential to play for a United or another top club. I said to him when I signed him: ‘You have the potential to play for England but you have to go and show that.’”

At Wigan, who host Nottingham Forest on Saturday, he has predominantly played as a floating No 10 and formed a brilliant partnership with the striker Will Grigg – both on and off the field. “He wants the ball and you get him on it to create things,” Grigg says. “But he is 6ft 1in, he can run in behind and he’s got a bit of everything. We have got a car school together; myself, Dan Burn, Michael Jacobs and Powelly. We get a coffee, take it turns driving in to training from Cheshire and we have a few little games here and there. It all adds to the camaraderie and it’s a good laugh.”

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