x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Man Utd's Nick Powell another rising star from Crewe production line

From a small town arena to the world stage the midfielder is justifying Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to sign him.

Nick Powell struck against Wigan Athletic to make a good initial impression at Manchester United.
Nick Powell struck against Wigan Athletic to make a good initial impression at Manchester United.

Crewe is a town in Cheshire in north west England best known for railways, a place where trains were made and a junction where passengers changed.

In the past three decades, however, it has acquired a second industry. Footballers there have altered the course of their careers. A small, homely club has transformed them into talents that bigger and wealthier rivals signed.

During Dario Gradi's 24-year reign as the manager between 1983 and 2007, David Platt, Danny Murphy, Rob Jones, Geoff Thomas, Seth Johnson, Dean Ashton, Neil Lennon and Robbie Savage were among those discovered, improved and sold on.

In his second spell at the helm, from 2009 to 2011, he gave a debut to a teenage midfielder.

Two years later, that selfsame player, Nick Powell, was making his Manchester United bow. He marked it with a glorious goal, driven in from outside the penalty area against Wigan Athletic.

It marked a swift rise for an 18 year old with Sir Alex Ferguson, rarely one to get carried away, immediately tipping him for greater things.

"Powell is going to be a really good player who, we hope, will fill Paul Scholes's boots. He's got terrific vision, good temperament, two great feet, is quick and is a great striker of the ball," he said.

Compared to the legendary Scholes one game into his United career? No pressure there, then. And yet Powell's immediate response was a reminder of lowlier roots.

"When I first came on it scared me a little bit because I'm only used to 5,000 people in the crowd," he said.

There were other things that marked him out as different: while others drove sports cars to United's Carrington training ground, he arrived in his Vauxhall Corsa.

It made for a newspaper story but did not persuade Powell to trade it in for something flashier. Nevertheless, life at United has made him accustomed to travel by another form of transport, jet plane: a Champions League debut came at Galatasaray exactly a year after he lined up for Crewe against Morecambe.

Born in Crewe, he was on the books at Gresty Road from the age of five. At 16, he became their second-youngest player when picked in August 2010.

The following season proved his breakthrough year. It did not begin auspiciously: his first red card came in August 2011, a month before he scored a senior goal. But it ended superbly, a spectacular volley against Cheltenham in a Wembley play-off final clinching Crewe's promotion from League Two.

It was his 16th goal of the season. "Nick Powell is a match winner," said Gradi, who had become director of football when Steve Davis took over as manager. "He is not a six-yard-box player." Indeed, as his first United goal showed, his strikes often come from outside the penalty area.

Powell went from Wembley to Old Trafford, with his deal concluded at Ferguson's house a day after Crewe's promotion was confirmed. While Crewe went up one division, he jumped three.

Among the scouts at Gresty Road was one particularly distinguished visitor. Ferguson, along with his assistant Mike Phelan, made a personal trip. "We came away and I said: 'He's definitely a player'," the United manager recalled. Gradi said: "Sir Alex wanted Nick more than anybody else did."

A £4 million (Dh23.9m) fee was agreed and a month into the season, with United cruising to victory against Wigan, Powell was pitched into first-team football and, quickly, the headlines.

"At Crewe, it was one camera and one person," he said. "Here it is the whole world."

With United having secured qualification from their Champions League group with two games to go, Powell was granted further experience, starting both. He struck the bar against Galatasaray and impressed teammates with his maturity.

"He wasn't fazed at all," said Michael Carrick. Darren Fletcher added: "Physically, he is powerful already but he can get even stronger. His touch, awareness and eye for a goal is great."

Indeed, that is the most obvious part of the attacking midfielder's game. Like Scholes, he has the technical ability, power of shot and predatory instinct. "Dario used to say my game isn't just attacking and defending, it's about goals as well," Powell said.

His ability to score was also apparent for England's youth teams. Powell had appeared at every level from Under 16 to Under 19 before debuting for the Under 21s in November's win against Northern Ireland. With England having qualified for next summer's U21 European Championships in Israel and United's busy Christmas programme offering the chance of further action, it is shaping up to be a busy year for club and country.

The railway town of Crewe was just the start of a footballing journey.

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