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27th Mar 2015

Can Nick Powell turn it around at Manchester United?

No more hugs for Nick...

Nooruddean Choudry

Nick Powell, Manchester United’s forgotten boy, became a forgotten man when he turned 21 earlier this week.

A few days prior to this landmark occasion Powell tweeted that he was on the road to recovery from a hamstring injury he suffered playing for the club’s reserves in February. Yet despite his tender age, the England youth international is fast approaching a fork in the road as far as his future is concerned.

When he joined United from Crewe Alexandra for a hefty £4m fee back in the summer of 2012, he was heralded as the next big thing. Dario Gradi compared him to Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whilst Sir Alex Ferguson went as far as to suggest he could go on to fill the boots of Paul Scholes.

The potential was clear. Powell was (and still is) a beautifully clean striker of the ball – a player made for the gif/YouTube era. Allied to his strong running style, all straight-back and elegant poise, there was plenty of talent to work with. Since then, however, it has been a rocky road of immaturity and broken promise.

His debut was auspicious to say the least. He came on against Wigan Athletic and scored a peach on the same day that Scholes racked up his 700th appearance. But despite impressing in subsequent games for the reserves he failed to break into the first XI and joined Wigan on loan at the beginning of the 2013/14 season.

Owen Coyle played the exciting youngster further forward than his midfield berth at United and it looked an inspired decision as the goals – often spectacular – began to flow. Coyle described the short-term deal as “win-win-win”, benefiting the player as well as both clubs. Up until January 2014, Powell looked a class apart.

Then, following a dip in form, he was arrested on April 20, 2014 for driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty and was banned from the road for 14 months and left out of the Wigan’s vital play-off games by new manager Uwe Rosler. He went from the Lancashire club’s leading goalscorer to persona non grata in a matter of weeks.

The offence meant that he was denied a visa to enter the US at the beginning of the following season and he therefore missed Louis van Gaal’s first pre-season tour as the new manager of Manchester United. Powell was again loaned out, this time to newly-promoted Leicester City. It was a rung above Wigan and another step in his development.

But his stint at the East Midlands club didn’t last long. Powell played a total of just 43 minutes for the first team before Nigel Pearson decided to cut short the loan and send him back to Old Trafford. The Daily Telegraph reported that Pearson had grown tired of Powell’s attitude in training as well as his general poor timekeeping.

That brings us to 21 and a fledgling career that has been derailed by factors other than talent. Powell has less than 18 months to run on his current deal and could end up leaving United as early as the summer if rumours are to be believed. The clock is ticking and he has precious little time to show the backroom at Old Trafford that he is finally ready to grow up.