After Paul Scholes incorrectly initially thought that his body could not hack the strains and demands of football at the highest level and called it quits on an astonishing career, shudders of fear and apprehension were reverberating around Old Trafford as to who his heir apparent would be.
Many candidates have tried so far to prove to the manager that they are indeed that man who can fill those illustrious boots of the ginger maestro, affectionately known as ‘sat-nav’ to his peers, mainly due to his unerring accuracy of passing.
But maybe we have a ready-made replacement amongst our ranks. In September United comfortably cruised past Wigan 4-0 at Old Trafford. One debutant got the man of the match award (Alexander Buttner) but it was another debutant who stole all the limelight and drew special praise from the manager. Mark down this time and date — 4.36 p.m. on September 15, 2012. It may the moment a future United great began his career.
‘He will be our new Paul Scholes in the future’. The manager was adamant, for him to come out and be so direct in his expectations is quite abnormal. Normally a man who errs on the side of caution in forthrightly praising players, the master of player protection and management, Sir Alex Ferguson is convinced that Nick Powell, signed in the summer for £4 million from Crewe, is the man to become the next Manchester United star.
To be earmarked so soon to be Scholes’ successor after a handful of training sessions and after a goalscoring debut speaks volumes of Ferguson’s conviction and the early strides that Powell has already made in his fledgling United career. It was some statement from the manager, and could easily have placed an enormous dosage of pressure on the young lad’s shoulders, but it seems like he enjoys the attention. When he was turning heads in League 2 last season, the sudden exposure to the boy’s feats only seemed to enhance his playing performance and set ridiculously impressive standards at such a tender age. Which is why capturing the boy for a meagre £4 million in today’s transfer climate is extremely astute. The deal was actually done in principle before the Playoff final, which Powell subsequently scored an absolute gem, showing that he thrives on the attention and is always keen to display his undoubted talent.
Upon hearing Ferguson’s praise after the Wigan match, Powell admitted that it was both ‘amazing and daunting’ to hear such endearing words from Britain’s best ever manager. So where have the comparisons, to the man who Xavi, Zidane and Guardiola amongst others have proclaimed to be the best midfielder of his generation, emanated from? His goal against Wigan was an eerily carbon copy of a Paul Scholes goal we have seen countless times over the years, particularly a strike against Copenhagen in the Champions League, this only added further weight to the initial assessment that Powell was the next Scholes. With a drop of the shoulder and a shimmy of the hips, he had sight of goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot. It was a finish reminiscent of a young Paul Scholes, showing the calmness and ability Scholes exudes to this day.
Paul Scholes was and probably will always be the prime example and blueprint to any goalscoring midfielder, having notched double figures eight times during his time with United. In his first professional season with Crewe, Powell scored sixteen times as they gained promotion to League 1. Powell seems to have benefited from having Scholes around on the training ground, he has picked up on what made Scholes such a stellar performer in midfield and has already shown distinct features and qualities to get United fans hoping that he can replicate the feats of Scholes. Powell was arguably the most impressive of a young crop of United players in our defeat to Galatasaray last night, despite being on the receiving end of some aggressive tackles from the Turks, Powell never went hiding and was always demanding the ball. Playing in behind the strikers, a position that Scholes flourished in in his early days, Powell proved a very creative link between midfield and strikers, linking up well with Danny Welbeck and Chicharito for the most part.
One thing Scholes mastered and became his trademark was arriving in the box right on cue, Powell showed glimpses last night that he has picked up this quality but the service was not quite up to standard last night meaning he could not get on the end of anything. Despite Scholes scoring a lot of headers over the years, he has not been blessed with height, at eighteen years old Powell stands at six foot plus, and is therefore a threat in the air, a point emphasised with him being desperately unlucky not to notch his second goal in United colours with a towering header that rattled the Galatasaray crossbar. It was a performance that left United fans purring, wanting more. It seems as though Powell is on the cusp of a breakthrough at United, the hardest thing is to make your way initially as a youngster such is the competition for places at United. All Powell has to do is to keep putting in the hard yards and playing akin to last night and he will be a prominent member of our first team squad in no time. He will be hard to leave out if he continues this steady upward curve.
For all the hype and expectation that has suddenly arisen following his promising start, Powell seems to mix a fearless attitude with a very level-headed approach. After the manager was waxing lyrical in the post-match interview against Wigan, Powell responded with a very composed and classy answer, much like his playing style:
“The expectations of you are there, but it’s fulfilling those expectations which is the challenge, especially when you consider that there will probably never be another Scholes. What he has achieved in his career is more than most people can dream of – to achieve even half of what he has would be brilliant. Hopefully I’m on the right path.”
Whenever anyone is compared to a stalwart or deemed the ‘next’ someone, it can more often than not be a curse rather than a compliment as the pressure to succeed intensifies, almost setting the bar too high, people can be focused rather too much on emulating rather than just getting on with business. But Powell could fill Scholes’ position for years. He has at least one more year to learn from the ultimate craftsman, which will only enhance his all-round game. Lionel Messi said that Scholes is ‘a teacher, his name is mentioned a lot here’ to Barcelona’s academy players, in this sense Powell will be a beneficiary. Scholes had a stint of coaching United’s kids when he retired for the first time, he is not a novice at giving youngsters in his position the best advice, and who better to learn from than the best in the art of midfield goalscoring? Scholes would be more than happy to impart his knowledge and nous to his potential successor as there is no ego in the man. He is very much the antithesis of the modern-day footballer who craves the limelight. Flashy to Scholes is going to watch Oldham, his boyhood club on a weekend. Powell could not possibly ask for a better mentor.
Many players in the past who have signed by the manager and entrusted to become the next big thing have fallen by the away side by succumbing to the enormities and pressures of playing for the best club in the world. You need to be of a certain mould to cut it at United. Powell seems to have the head and coolness needed to excel in the pressure situations. Not fazed by appearing in a Playoff final at the home of football for his boyhood club, Powell scored a worldie which turned heads. Most youngsters who join United are given a bedding in period or sent on loan to concentrate on regular football. Powell is a different entity, the manager rebuffed several attempts by Championship clubs to temporarily secure one of Britain’s hottest talents, and instead he was featuring in supposed ‘hell’ in Istanbul and excelling. On debut for United, he was stepping up 3 divisions. It took him fifteen minutes to announce himself, he was a United player and here to stay.
Sir Alex s a firm believer in our midfielders notching double figures, something that has become a rarity in recent years following Scholes adopting a deeper role in midfield. We have always had midfielders who have scored goals during the Ferguson legacy- Bryan Robson, Lee Sharpe, Paul Ince, Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and so on. It was a vital component in our quest for success, if we can rediscover this knack we will be heading places. Powell has already shown during his brief career that he knows where the goal is. Scholes’ trademark was ghosting into the box unnoticed freeing up the space needed to get goals. Powell has shown examples of this trait, and that is the key to midfield goalscoring, the timing of the run is as important as the finish. Powell will be a free scorer of goals if he perfects his runs into the box. This added with his aerial threat will always make him a handful and a menacing proposition, meaning he could easily replicate Scholes’ annual goal tallies in his pomp.
As far as players hoping to make the grade, is there a better place to learn your trade than at Manchester United? The place where so many over the years have gone on to become global stars and adored by many. Our history speaks for itself in this respect, the Class of 92 was envied by many and is still to this day a one-off sensation. Beckham, Scholes, Butt, Giggs and the Nevilles all made their name at United, if we look back in the archives, there are midfielders like Bobby Charlton, George Best, Duncan Edwards, Nobby Stiles, David Sadler and Sammy McIlroy, who all are considered greats of the game. Growing our own fruit has always been a hallmark of Manchester United and we have a long and distinguished history of producing some of the best midfielders to have ever graced the beautiful game. Powell also comes to the club as we try to build the next great team, the next Ferguson classic. He is surrounded by top young talents in all positions who will form the spine of United for years to come. In David De Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Rafael, Tom Cleverly and Danny Welbeck, Powell joins a team that has a great foundation and could feasibly stay together for a long time.
The hype surrounding Powell is to be expected given that many predict that Scholes’ actual retirement will leave a big hole and will need filling. If Powell continues to hard work on the training pitch and stay level-headed, something which is not a given with the youngsters of today, then he will get the opportunities to show he can fill the void. If Powell keeps on improving at the rate he is, he could potentially mean we save millions in the future by it not being necessary to fork out top dollar for a midfielder. £4M could turn out to be pennies if Powell can be half as good as Scholes.
Maybe we have a player on our hands who could replace the great Paul Scholes?