“Certainly Dario does not underestimate this lad’s talent. He’s got natural ability and Dario said, in his view, there is no reason why Nick cannot play at the highest level of league football.”
“I think he’s one of the best there has been”- John Bowler
|Powell with Gradi holding the League One Young Player of the Year award
These were the words of the chairman of Crewe Alexandra only a day after he proudly watched his club triumph over Cheltenham Town in the grand setting of Wembley stadium on the sun soaked afternoon of Sunday to climb back into League One following a three year absence.
He was of course, singling out the precocious talent of Nick Powell on which to lavish the almightiest of praise in these parts; Dean Ashton, Neil Lennon, Danny Murphy, Geoff Thomas, Seth Johnson and Rob Jones are some of the names on the honour roll of Crewe academy graduates that Powell has now joined and to be called the best is a statement that becomes more sensible with every passing performance that borders on the sensational.
It was following the script of true footballing irony that Powell should wake from his relative slumber of a few sluggish performances in recent weeks to mark the most gorgeous of settings with a goal of divine beauty, good enough to grace any level and to fire the club that made him subject of a reported £4 million deal with Manchester United, back into the third tier.
It was almost like his calling to arms, his Simba Lion King moment if you will, this was his stage and he seized it with unerring aplomb.
In the searing heat, with the game still in the disorganization of its youth with just a quarter hour gone, he picked up the ball with his back to goal, swiveled to the right with a feint and unleashed an emphatic howitzer past Cheltenham goalkeeper Scott Brown with his left foot from 20 yards.
It was a scramble of elation amongst Crewe fans in the opposite side of the ground as they could barely believe what had just took place and whilst numerous replays were beamed to the world through the modicum of Sky Sports cameras, it began to sunk in that what had occurred was something truly special.
It is important not to dwell on the goal too much with Powell, a fantastic team effort saw them double the lead and enjoy the ecstasy of the post-match celebrations, but it was also a culmination of a campaign that has been littered with a series of wonderful moments from a player that before only two months ago, was just a mere 17 year old.
|Powell celebrating his goal vs Cheltenham|
Crewe’s remarkable journey from 18th in early November to promotion in May hasn’t just been the fruits of a change of manager, but the rise to the fore of Powell from unconvincing teenager to talismanic genius.
A steady introduction was the philosophy of Dario Gradi, bearing way for a few unconvincing performances from the bench last season whilst an impressive showing for England under 17s in the European Championships in the summer followed, scoring against France and leading England to the semi-finals.
However, this season started slowly again for Powell, his inexperience showed in the clearest form as he was sent off at Shrewsbury for an over-spill of frustration in a game where his team were slipping to a fifth straight defeat.
There were sporadic glimpses of his talent, a wonderful goal away at AFC Wimbledon, a clever performance away at Cheltenham, but the extent of his restraint was illustrated when Gradi chose to bench Powell in favour of a youth team game when his final match came in a devastating 0-3 home loss to Torquay, a transient example of Dario’s misguided faith in matters below the first team that were hindering the club.
His successor, Steve Davis, immediately turned to Powell, installing him as a figurehead and was duly rewarded with a stunning strike against Morecambe to spark a late comeback to secure a win in the manager’s first league game.
He hit a 25 yarder to win the game against Hereford a week later as the turnaround began in earnest, a solo-demolition of Bristol Rovers contributed to the League Two Player of the Month award for December and so the attention started to drift in.
Ten goals later, including the spectacular effort at Wembley that sought promotion, and he is the most wanted young talent in the Football League, with the general consensus being he will be Manchester United’s first signing of a transitional summer where they aim to win back English football’s greatest prize.
Sweeping all before him at Crewe’s end of season awards, including goal of the season for a stunning effort away at Gillingham that only a perusal of YouTube can do justice, the words have long since railed to reach hyperbole when describing the attacking midfielder who hit 16 goals for the season to fire his team to promotion in his debut year.
From one watch of his performances which have attracted scores of scouts and even David Moyes and Alex Ferguson to the regular season’s last game with Aldershot, the most glorious conclusion that this player, at the logic defying age of 17-18, can emblazon his potential to reach the very summit of his trade can be drawn.
As England’s national team set off on a voyage of pragmatic, low-risk football a night earlier, the great hope that Powell can be at the forefront of the next generation of technically gifted ingenuity is still very much alive.
Armed with the most audacious of skills and technique and also a marvellous attitude that seems him diligently track back to help out the defensive phase of play, Powell is the complete package; that England youth level teams use him in a Paul Scholes style deep-lying central midfield role rather than the free-attacking midfield role he is more accustomed to with his club is best suggestive of the versatility that he possesses, unbelievably, at the ripest of ages.
The immaturity that saw the red card against Shrewsbury or the resulting accusations from sections of support that he believed his own hype too much to make it to any degree of success have been kicked out of the atmosphere with more conviction than what he hit his Wembley goal, all within a space of eight months, it has been a progression at a fair rate of knots.
A few subdued performances in recent weeks as Crewe negotiated the play-off process were consigned to the history books as an unwelcome anomaly as he took to centre stage so majestically on Sunday afternoon.
There may have been a feeling that his show culminated in an 80th minute substitution that could mark his last action on the pitch for his boyhood club as the vultures begin to circle the sky for this special talent. Though, his last act off the pitch may have been lifting the play-off trophy and celebrating with his team-mates, like he said he would do, and there is no fate more deserving for Powell than that.
For the final was his season in microcosm; showcasing his ability to assist the club to victories that earned this awesome conclusion. There will be no bitter feeling if Powell was to leave this coming summer, only well-wishers as he has exceeded the expectation level and smashed it to smithereens.
Pick any Crewe fan and he could exhume plaudits and trawl compliments off the register to Powell all night, but as mentioned earlier, there is no verb fitting enough left to use when describing his contribution, they have all been exercised enough.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow me on Twitter @AdamGray1250
Published with permission from O-Posts.