Nick Powell: Why Manchester United Signing Could Be the Next Michael Carrick

Terry CarrollContributor IIIJuly 26, 2012

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 25:  Nick Powell of Manchester United (2-L) challenges with Wang Shouting of Shanghai Shenhua (C)during the Friendly Match between Shanghai Shenhua and Manchester United at Shanghai Stadium on July 25, 2012 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Hong Wu/Getty Images)
Hong Wu/Getty Images

There is an extraordinary dichotomy over Michael Carrick, between the experts at Manchester United and a surprising number of fans.

So let's hope the chances of Nick Powell emulating United's No. 16 augur well for this exciting young prospect.

In an interview written up this week in the Telegraph, Sir Alex confirmed what he has said before and what some of us already believed:

“I think Carrick is the key to it. He did really well in the second half of last season and I think he's going to be the key man.

“Scholes and Giggs will obviously play their part and Tom Cleverley hopefully, as well as Anderson if he keeps fit. They will all play a part but for me Carrick is the key player.

“But we do have an issue in central midfield, there is no doubt about that because getting a Scholes or a Carrick is very difficult these days.

“We have the boy Powell coming through but he is young and, although he is a very good talent, he will eventually be a midfield player."

Michael Carrick the quarterback

Now there were a few things that were significant in that detailed article.

First, that Sir Alex doesn't see the need for a ball-winning midfielder; so that rules out signing the likes of Witsel or Tiote.

Next, that he will build the team around a creative midfield player, the "trequarista" or "quarterback" as some people would have it.

He compares Carrick favourably to Luka Modric and Yaya Toure. This doesn't mean that Sir Alex wouldn't still like to sign Modric, but gives the sense that he has accepted reality and moved on.

It also partially explains his interest in Luca Moura and indeed Robin van Persie. 

The Dutchman can play the Dennis Bergkamp or Teddy Sheringham role, as well as being the target man in a 4-5-1 or similar. Behind him will be a bundle of energetic, skillful and pacy "No. 10s": Kagwa, Rooney, Anderson, Cleverly, etc. and hopefully Lucas.

But pivotal to the whole team will be the conductor of the orchestra, sat in front of the back four, having the vision and passing ability to see, direct and/or create the moves and able to glide up to and into the penalty area as needed, like the great Socrates for Brazil.

That was Paul Scholes' evolved role as he aged; now it is handed to Michael Carrick.

Nick Powell, the new Michael Carrick?

Last season, Nick Powell scored 16 goals in 45 games for Crewe Alexandra at the age of 17. No wonder United, Chelsea, Arsenal and others were after him.

He scored five in 17 games for England U17s.

Some of his goals, such as the one that got Crewe promoted, were of a stunning quality.

Michael Carrick was a pivotal player for Tottenham Hotspur before he joined United. Daniel Levy didn't want to let him go. The Red Devils paid £14 million, rising to £18.6 million, for a then-24-year-old who had only scored eight goals in 234 top-level appearances.

Sir Alex always saw him as Roy Keane's replacement, but that doesn't mean he saw him as a terrier or a ball-winner. The interview above makes clear what the manager foresaw.

Does he see the same for Powell? I believe so.

Sir Alex has already said "he's definitely a player."

He also made clear at the Press Conference for Powell and Kagawa's arrival at Old Trafford that he sees the ex-Crewe starlet in central midfield in future.

Some have taken this to mean that Nick Powell is the new Paul Scholes. That's some tag to hang around the neck of an 18-year-old, no matter how confident he may seem.

Powell's debut against Shanghai

Sir Alex had previously implied that Powell would be brought patiently through the Reserves into the First Team. He may have to rethink that after his 25 minutes against Ajax Cape Town and his full debut against Shanghai Shenwa. 

The Scot was full of praise for both his new signings. Of Powell he said:

"Powell's done well. He's two-footed, he has good balance and awareness about him. He's only 18 years of age but he'll be a very good player."

I was watching this full debut to see who stood out. Kagawa was man of the match by a mile, but Sir Alex will have to take Nick Powell seriously. The thought suddenly struck me early on: "This is the new Michael Carrick..."

He has a similar way about him, quiet and composed. He was brutally tackled with an over-the-top studs-up cruncher that went unpunished, but he got up and got on, despite having "a sore one."

He has a similar build and physique and will fill out more as he matures, together with United's fabled body-building regime.

For Crewe he was a goal-scorer with the ratio of a striker and some people wondered how he was going to get in the team ahead of the strikers and attacking midfielders already on the roster.

Instead, he settled quietly in, just ahead of Carrick, moved and distributed well and even ghosted into the penalty area to a position where he should have scored.

Carrick will take the full-time "playmaker" role from Scholes this season and, apart from when playing alongside the Ginger Prince, will have Anderson or Cleverly for company if the Brazilian stays, or Fletcher if he returns to fitness.

But don't rule out Nick Powell making more appearances in central midfield than you or even he might have expected.

He has composure, is undoubtedly two-footed, can score goals, doesn't give the ball away and can pass. Sounds familiar? Yes, except that he will score more goals than Carrick does and that will suit Sir Alex.

Finally, as I was watching his cameo appearance I was asking myself, how good he can be? Apart from what's written above, my mind turned to Jordan Henderson.

The England player signed by Liverpool for £20 million looks no better than Powell; indeed, the Crewe lad looks more relaxed, like someone who knows where he should be and what he wants to do. 

The way he recovered from a knock that would have had Ribery or Neymar crying all the way to the dugout and got on with the job, the things he did and the composure he showed, this lad could turn out to be one of Sir Alex's greatest bargain buys of all time.

Watch this space...


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