It never rains, but it pours, as Sir Alex Ferguson signs not one, but two attacking midfielders this summer. Five years after Anderson joined Manchester United from Porto, the 70-year-old United coach has bolstered the Reds’ midfield options this window. Not before long, many supporters might add. While the £18 million deal to bring Shinji Kagawa to Old Trafford will be ratified when the international window opens on 1 July, the club today confirmed the capture of Crewe Alexandra teenager Nick Powell for an officially undisclosed fee.
While many expect Kagawa to make an immediate impact at Old Trafford, playing just off Wayne Rooney at ‘number 10’ next season, Powell signs with an eye firmly on the future, although the Haslington-based youngster will likely join United’s pre-season tour to China, South Africa and Norway. Branded “an exceptional talent” by Ferguson, Powell scored 16 goals in all competitions last season – just his second campaign in professional football.
Powell’s acquisition will cost United up to £6 million, although less than half is reportedly being paid up-front, with bonuses due to Crewe depending on player and club targets met over the course of a four-year contract. In that Powell’s is an archetypal modern United transfer – a player with undoubted talent, who may well improve, and who’s value could rise in the future.
Also to type, United greeted the latest deal with the usual fanfare – a mass emailer urging fans to join the “season ticket priority list” – canned quotes for the media, and a picture of a beaming ceo with the new acquisition!
“We have scouted Nick for months now,” claimed Sir Alex. “He is an exceptional talent and has been schooled well at Crewe. I’m delighted he has chosen to come to United. He has a lot to offer and we are all looking forward to working with him.”
Meanwhile, Powell proclaimed his excitement at the opportunity to work with “Sir Alex and the world-class players in the squad.”
But aside from the commercial impetus, there is genuine reason for long-term optimism, with Powell one of the most sought-after youngsters in the Football League system. While the 18-year-old is yet to appear at a higher level than League Two, Powell has represented England and under-16 through under-18 levels, and was followed by scouts from almost every leading club last season.
Deployed as both an attacking midfielder and shadow-forward at Crewe, Powell has been described by regular followers of the Football League as a “complete footballer in his ability to drift deep, act as a targetman and dribble past opponents.” He could become anything from a ‘number 10’ to a central midfielder as his career develops.
The teenager first joined Alex as a five-year-old, making his first team bow, age 16, in the 2010–11 season under former manager Dario Gradi. It was a gentle introduction to professional football though as the youngster made 19 appearances in his début campaign – 18 of them from the bench. Indeed, while Powell was used sparingly, he also took some time to find the shooting range that has persuaded United to invest so heavily. The youngster failed to hit the net in his first 27 matches for the club until scoring against AFC Wimbledon in October last year.
It was under new manager Steve Davis in the campaign just finished that the player genuinely flourished, with a series of eye-catching performances and a glut of goals, including a thumping 35-yard strike in a 4-3 win over Gillingham, and a goal at Wembley in Crewe’s 2-0 League Two play-off final win. Powell finished the campaign with 16 goals in 45 appearances.
The performances earned Powell Crewe’s Player of the Season award, and the Football League’s Apprentice of the Year for League Two gong. None of it went unnoticed, with Ferguson and assistant Mike Phelan attending Crewe’s fixture with Aldershot Town last May. It sealed United’s decision to secure a prodigious talent.
“Nick has shown everyone what a talent he possesses,” said Crewe boss Davis.
“He got better as the season went on and played a vital role in us winning promotion. He is a match winner and was deservedly named as our player-of-the-season for the contribution he made. He has added goals to his game and I think he will only continue to improve and develop at a top club like Manchester United.
“If he can continue to progress then there is no reason why he cannot become the top player we all believe he can be. Everyone at Crewe Alexandra is delighted that Nick has signed for Manchester United”
United supporters will likely see Powell in action during the club’s multi-leg, money-spinning, summer tour across three continents. Indeed, although there have been suggestions the player may head out on loan it is unlikely to happen prior to the January transfer window, with Ferguson and his coaching team undoubtedly keen to work with the player closely.
Then there is, of course, the question of whether the youngster can make a break through into the first team next season. The sizeable fee, which could rise to around £6 million according to today’s reports, suggests that Powell may be given every opportunity to break through sooner than some of his 18-year-old contemporaries at Old Trafford.
Facts and Figures
Name: Nicholas Edward Powell
Date of Birth: 23 March 1994
Height: 6′ 0″ (183cm)
Weight: 10st 5lbs (65kg)
2010/11 – 17 appearances, 0 goals
2011/12 – 45 appearances, 16 goals
England U16 – 7, 1
England U17 – 17, 5
England U18 – 1, 0
Football League Young Player of the Month – December 2011
League Two Apprentice of the Year – 2012
Crewe Alexandra Young Player of the Year – 2012
Crewe Alexandra Player of the Year – 2012
Crewe Alexandra Goal of the Season – 2012