Wigan Athletic have a paltry goalscoring record this season, notching just 81 goals in 60 matches. But among the goals they have scored there have been some absolute crackers. Jean Beausejour’s rocket shot at Derby, Jordi Gomez’s free kicks, Roger Espinoza’s 35 yard blinder against MK Dons.
But in terms of sheer self-confidence and artistry Nick Powell’s second goal in the Europa League home game against Maribor stands out. It is the kind of thing that one might expect to happen at places like the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu, but it was certainly a joy to see it at the DW.
Powell was the hero for Latics that night. His first goal had come after 22 minutes from a simple header into an empty net after the Slovenian goalkeeper had made a hash of a punch. Ben Watson scored with a header from Jean Beausejour’s cross some 12 minutes later. But Maribor clawed their way back into the game as Latics went flat, scoring after 61 minutes. Powell’s deciding goal came in the 91st minute when he somehow found the energy that most of his teammates did not have to slalom through the visitor’s defence and score with aplomb.
That was in early October and Powell’s stock was high. His name was being touted around the media as the one who could go back to Old Trafford and lift his parent club out of their lethargy.
Owen Coyle was clearly delighted to sign Powell on loan last August, saying “I said to David (Whelan) when I was bringing him in, for me it was a win-win-win situation.We would win out of it because we got a terrific player, Nick Powell would win because I’ve given him a platform to showcase his talents and Manchester United will get back a more-developed player with more experience and a player who can challenge; as we’ve done before with the Sturridges and the Wilsheres.There’s no doubt from me he can have a huge career.”
During the time Coyle was at Wigan it looked like his assessment of Powell’s potential might be right. The 19 year old was to get rich experience in Europe, starting in five of the six Europa League games and coming on for the last half hour in the other in Kazan. His first appearance for Latics was coming on as a substitute in the 2-0 defeat at Leicester on September 14th. Five days later he started in the unfamiliar centre forward position in the 0-0 draw with Zulte Waregem in Bruges. With experienced central strikers Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune struggling with injuries, Powell soon established himself in that position.
Alex Ferguson had signed him from Crewe in July 2012. Powell had been a boy wonder with the Railwaymen, making his debut at the age of 16. He was to get lots of media attention scoring a spectacular goal for Crewe in the 2012 League 2 playoff final, but he had already agreed on a move to Old Trafford before then.
The iconic Dario Gradi, Director of Football at Crewe, explained what Ferguson saw in Powell: “He is athletic, he’s a good size, he’s good physically and he’s bright, he knows where people are around him. His clever with his play, he’s not just twinkle toes. Nick’s got a brain and a desire and Alex spotted it on the strength of one outing.”
Powell had become a key player in Coyle’s squad. Given the number of games Latics were facing Coyle was operating a rotation policy but Powell seemed to be the one Latics forward who could go the full 90 minutes on a regular basis. It prompted fans to wonder about the fitness levels of his team mates. At the time of the Scot leaving the club in December, Powell had made 14 starts, 3 appearances as a substitute and scored 6 goals.
In both of Graham Barrow’s games in charge, Powell started, but was substituted early in the second half. He was pulled off after 65 minutes in Uwe Rosler’s first game, the 2-1 defeat at Maribor. However, in the next match he came back to play the full ninety against Bolton, scoring with a bicycle kick in Latics’ 3-2 win.
He scored a goal in the 2-1 win at Reading in the next match, but was taken off at half time. Around that time in late December media speculation over Powell’s future was going haywire. The main theme was that Manchester United were going to recall him from his loan spell. Another version was that he was either going to go on loan to another Premier League club for the rest of the season or another club was to sign him. The names of Everton and Swansea were often quoted.
In the event, Powell was to stay at Wigan until the end of the season. His next goals came after coming on in the 60th minute in the FA Cup tie at MK Dons when Latics were in trouble. His two well- taken goals helped them reach the fourth round.
Injury caused Powell to miss the month of February and he returned to the field on March 12th coming on in the 54th minute in the 1-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday. Since then Powell has only completed two games, including a goal in the 3-3 home draw with Yeovil. His other goal was an 88th minute equalizer at Bolton, after coming on at the 70 minute mark. The last game he completed was the 1-0 defeat at QPR on March 25th.
Since Uwe Rosler’s arrival, Powell has made 12 starts, 10 appearances off the bench and scored 6 goals. The stats paint a different story than in the first half of the season under Coyle.
Nick Powell had an impressive start to his loan spell under Owen Coyle. Although Ferguson and Manchester United signed him as a midfield player, Coyle thrust him into a central striking role. During Coyle’s tenure he looked the part.
The young player exudes a certain kind of arrogance in his body language on the field of play. Some have compared him to Berbatov, but under Coyle, Powell was willing to graft and defend in a way that would not typify the Bulgarian. Powell won the hearts of many Latics fans through not only his excellent technique and confident play, but also through the physical effort he put out for his team.
Somewhere along the line, Powell lost his way. He just has not been the same kind of player in the second part of the season. Have injuries and illness played a part? Has the extreme media attention got too much for him, above all not knowing where he will be next year? Or is it just that he is a young player, not long turned 20, who lacks consistency? The conspiracy theorists will say that there is a rift between Powell and Rosler.
What fans have seen over the past weeks is a Powell who has not shown the same kind of physical commitment that we saw earlier in the season. Moreover the swagger that the young player was showing in his body language earlier in the season was seen as a sign of self-belief, but is now being interpreted by some as a “couldn’t care less” attitude. However, some would say that Powell has not been well used by Rosler, too often pushed out to the wings where he is less effective. At times under Coyle, he enjoyed a free role.
Nick Powell is a fine young player, who has represented his country at all youth levels 16-21. He has recently been nominated Crewe’s best player of all time. He is a class act and will almost certainly represent his country at senior level.
If Powell can make the playoffs – in a positive frame of mind and a good state of health and fitness – it might conceivably make the difference between another year in the Championship division or a return to the Premier League for Wigan Athletic.