On the 2 July 2012, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson purchased Nick Powell, 18, from Crewe Alexandra for a fee of £4 million which could have been worth £6 million with add-ons – the transfer was confirmed on the 12 June 2012. The 18-year-old was noticed by United following his exploits for Crewe in a season that the club qualifies for the League Two play-off, winning it by beating Cheltenham Town 2-0 with Powell scoring the second goal – a volley from outside of the box and into the top corner of the goal. Powell won both the Young Player of the Year and Player of the Year awards for his club that season. Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager at the time, stated:
“We have scouted Nick for months now. 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.”
During the 2011/12 season at Crewe, Powell made a total of 45 appearances, scoring 16 goals and eight assists, which was a good achievement for a player of his age. Ferguson saw his talent, which was a bit on the raw side, seeing the potential in the player. On moving to United, Powell made his debut in a pre-season coming off the bench in a 1-1 draw with Ajax Cape Town then starting four days later against Shanghai Shenhua, a 1-0 victory for United. The 18-year-old made his competitive debut against Wigan Athletic, scoring the fourth goal in a 4-0 victory in the Premier League.
During his debut season at United, Powell made a total of six appearances for the first team, scoring one goal, making 10 appearances at youth level, scoring four goals and one assist. During the 2013/14 season, after the retirement of Ferguson, David Moyes loaned Powell to Wigan Athletic where he made 41 appearances for the club, scoring 12 goals and three assists – three goals and one assist in the UEFA Europa League. Powell spoke to the Manchester Evening News about the retirement of Ferguson, which came as a shock to him, hearing the news after coming round after surgery, saying:
“I remember waking up from my back operation and he’d announced his retirement. So I had no idea, woke up and then he’d retired.
“I remember saying before that I didn’t want my op, as United had pretty much won the league by then and you needed 10 appearances to get a medal – I was on two or three. I made a couple of bench appearances and I was really enjoying the time, even though I wasn’t playing. He [Ferguson] told me exactly what I was getting into and I didn’t mind that.
“Then to get that news when you wake up from an operation when that was the whole reason you went to the club in the first place…yeah it was a kick in the teeth.
“It was always going to be different when Sir Alex retired. If he wasn’t there and I didn’t have a phone call and meetings with him, I probably wouldn’t have gone to United. So it was always going to be a downhill spiral for me as soon as he left.”
During the 2014/15 season, this time working under Louis Van Gaal at United after the sacking of Moyes in April 2014, Powell was loaned out once again, after playing in that 4-0 League Cup defeat to MK Dons, this time to Premier League new boys Leicester City – playing three times for the first team and four times at U21 level where he scored two goals and two assists.
The player returned to United during the winter transfer window after Leicester terminated the loan deal. Powell played five times at U21 level for United, scoring two goals before the end of the season.
Come the 2015/16 season, Powell was to remain at United suffering from a knee injury and needed time to recover after surgery. He made his first appearance for United in 2015 in the UEFA Champions League against VfL Wolfburg, replacing Juan Mata with United losing 3-2 and being knocked out of the competition with PSV Eindhoven beating CSKA Moscow, finishing third in the group and exiting to the Europa League.
Powell made two first team appearances for United that season, making three more at U21 level, where he scored three goals and one assist. Powell was loaned to Hull City during the winter transfer window, seeing out the remainder of the 2015/16 season at the club, making just five appearances for the club and not scoring or assisting any goals.
It was safe to say that his career had gone by the way side and he was losing his love of the game, based on Ferguson retiring, injury recovery and a loss of form – the player was in a downward spiral – which was a shame to see based on the talent that had taken him to United. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News about this, Powell said:
“My time at United was poisoned by falling out of love with football. I didn’t feel like I was part of anything at the time. I was in limbo between reserves and first-team.
““I remember people trying to find me because I was late to a reserve game, reserve training, first-team training – purely because I didn’t know where I was supposed to be.
“I’d get onto one training pitch and I’d be told, ‘no, you’re over there this week’ and I’d be 10, 15 minutes late and I’d be getting fined. But nobody was talking to me, I didn’t know where I was supposed to be.”
In June 2016, United made the decision to release Powell from the club at the end of his contract, which was a four-year deal. Powell signed for Wigan as a free agent and stayed at the club for three seasons making 99 appearances, scoring 29 goals and 15 assists – making his club total 140 appearances, 41 goals and 18 assists (including his time on loan at the club from United).
Powell was offered a new contract at the club which he turned down in June 2019 as confirmed by Wigan manager Paul Cook, in which he told the Wigan Post, reported by Wigan Today the following:
“Wigan Athletic could not have done any more to keep Nick at this football club. Right up until the end, this club genuinely tried their very best to be in the market to keep him here.
“Unfortunately for us – and the fans must accept this – when you find yourselves up against Stoke City, and a few other big clubs he was speaking to, it becomes impossible.
“But the biggest compliment you can pay Wigan Athletic is that it ended up being such a tough decision for him despite all that. That really is a compliment in itself.”
Powell, now 26, signed for Stoke City on the 25 June 2019 and made his debut for the club in their Championship opener against Queens Park Rangers on the 3 August 2019 but was unable to finish the match due to injury, which saw him miss the next nine matches.
During the 2019/20 season, which was delayed into the summer of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic with football all around the world suspended for around three months, made a total of 30 appearances for the club, scoring five goals and five assists.
During the 2020/21 season, Powell made 42 appearances for his club, scoring 12 goals and three assists and seems to be settling into the game and looking ahead to the future. Looking back at his time as an 18-year-old and looking like the next big things in the game, and seeing his his career developed after moving to United, many will see him making what will be seen as the biggest mistake of his career.
Ferguson retiring at United was something that he was upset by, as were many other players at the Old Trafford club at the time. United are still seeking to recover from it.
Ahead of the Carabao Cup 5-4 penalty victory over Blackpool, Neil Critchley now the manager of the Lancashire club used to be the academy director of Crewe Alexandra so knew Powell. He gave some advice for the player at his new club and talked about his hope of seeking him develop his career and reach for the top of the game, which is the Premier League, a league he has played in sparingly for both United and Leicester.
Critchley spoke to the Stoke Sentinel about the 26-year-old, praising the player for his ability and hoping that he finds his feet again, saying:
“It’s great to see Nick. I’m delighted when I see the way he plays. I’ve known him since he was six and he’s still the same; an unbelievable player, without doubt one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching.
“Physically he’s fantastic, he can use both feet and there’s nothing he can’t do with the ball. I spoke to Michael before the game and asked him and he spoke very well of him as well. I hope he goes on to have a really good season for Stoke this year. I want to see him do what he should be doing – scoring goals and making a difference.”
Powell was a talented teenager but he was not seen as the best player that should be kept around United following the retirement of Ferguson. Granted, the club has still not recovered from that based on the bad decisions of the hierarchy of the club, which is still happening now and the fact the footballing decisions seem to be made by people who know nothing about the game.
Powell wanted to thrive at United under Ferguson but the direction under Moyes and Van Gaal were different. Critchley, talking about Powell’s future, concluded by saying:
“I hope so. He’s still young enough, he’s still got years in front of him. That’s sometimes the rollercoaster of a football career. It’s probably not gone the way he would have wanted so far but he’s still having a fantastic career, playing at some amazing football clubs.
“Has he got the ambition and hunger to be a success in the Premier League? I don’t work with him every day now but I know the type of boy he was. He absolutely loves football, lives for football and he’ll be wanting to get where probably things he can play.
“I hope he does that, either personally or by getting there with Stoke this season.”
The future looks good for the 27-year-old as his transfer to Stoke seems to have paid off with him making an impact in front of goal during the 2020/21 season. His contract was set to expire at the end of June 2021, and having been named the clubs Player of the Year for the 2020/21 season. Last season, Powell has made a total of 22 appearances, scoring seven goals and two assists. He signed a new one-year contract expiring in the summer of 2023 but has not yet played this season.
Written by John Walker