Whatever happened to Nick Powell?

Powell playing for Wigan in 2013 (Action Images/John Clifton)

NICK Powell made a dream start for Manchester United after being signed from Crewe in 2012. Then just 18, he came off the bench on 71 minutes in United’s home game against Wigan and within 11 minutes he produced a well-taken strike to seal a 4-0 victory.

Little did he and Sir Alex Ferguson know, that was as good as it would get for Powell at Old Trafford. The Reds let his contract run down and he left last week on a free transfer, coincidentally joining WIGAN on a three-year deal.

In four years at Old Trafford, the attacking midfielder played a grand total of 358 minutes for United, with that his only goal. So whatever happened to the bright young thing which Fergie splashed £4m on back in 2012?

Powell had become the second-youngest player to play for Crewe when he made his senior debut as a 16-year-old in August 2010. At the start of the following season he was still to score a senior goal yet he finished the 2011/12 campaign with 16 from 45 games.

What’s more, many of them were spectacular, most notably his superb turn and volley in the League Two play-off final, which set Alex on course for a 2-0 win over Cheltenham. Having followed up that Wembley display with a dream debut at Old Trafford, he looked born for the big stage.

That summer Fergie let a young Paul Pogba leave but Powell was seen as an adequate replacement. He was billed as a future England international, perhaps even the next Paul Scholes. And had he progressed the way United expected, Roy Hodgson could well have built the team around him for this summer’s Euros.

Yet he made just one more Premier League appearance that season and joined Wigan on a season-long loan for 2013/14, scoring 12 goals in 41 games as the Latics reached the Championship play-offs.

With Louis van Gaal having taken over in the summer of 2014, United’s League Cup game at MK Dons was a chance for Powell to impress the new boss. Instead the Reds were humiliated 4-0 and Powell was hauled off after 57 minutes.

He was then loaned out to Leicester, who soon discovered one of the reasons why Powell’s progress has faltered. The Foxes sent him back in December 2014 after just three substitute appearances, reportedly due to his attitude in training and poor timekeeping.

Powell didn’t play again for almost a year, partly due to a series of hamstring problems, and he again failed to impress when Van Gaal handed him two substitute appearances. They were his last games for United as he endured another disappointing loan spell earlier this year, with injuries restricting him to just five games for Hull.

The likes of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Ratchford bypassed Powell in the pecking order at Old Trafford and so Powell slipped through the back door this summer, with newly-promoted Wigan handing him a chance to resurrect his career in the Championship.

The move makes sense. Wigan is perhaps the last place he felt wanted, he enjoyed his best spell in the higher divisions there and is remembered fondly at the DW Stadium, not least for his overhead kick in the win over Bolton in December 2013.

Powell could face his former club in Saturday’s friendly at the DW and with Jose Mourinho now in charge at United, he will no doubt wonder what might have been.

But time on his side (can you believe he’s still only 22!) and hopefully his experience at United has taught him some humility. If he has matured and can now knuckle down then maybe he can fulfil the potential that Fergie saw after all.