By Chris Dunlavy
Two incidents illustrate the infuriating enigma that is Nick Powell – and both involve a Vauxhall Corsa.
In 2012, a month after joining Manchester United from Crewe, the teenager proudly posted a picture of his motor after it had passed an MOT. Mocked on social media, he tweeted “So… what’s wrong with my stallion Corsa?”.
Two years later, that same vehicle was pulled over by police, who’d spotted Powell driving without lights. Breathalysed, he was convicted of drink driving and banned for 14 months.
If the first spoke of a young lad keeping his feet on the ground – as he’d promised in his very first interview at Carrington – the second suggested the anchor had come loose.
Even before his court rap, rumours seeped from Old Trafford that Powell’s appetite for a training drill was outweighed by his penchant for a pint.
That a player described as the heir to Paul Scholes by Alex Ferguson was starting to look more like another Ravel Morrison.
When a furious Nigel Pearson returned Powell to Old Trafford midway through a loan spell at Leicester, reportedly infuriated by the midfielder’s attitude and timekeeping, those suspicions crystalised.
By July 2016, his United career was over, his reputation wrecked. Powell joined Wigan on a free transfer and was roundly written off as just another kid blinded by the limelight.
But, as the 23-year-old prepares to face Manchester City’s superstars tomorrow night, is it time for a reassessment?
Powell’s form suggests it is. Twelve goals, three assists, inspirational performances every other week.
In orchestrating Wigan’s 2-0 destruction of West Ham in Round 4, Powell was the only player from either side who looked Premier League class. Where others ran, he flowed. Gone, too, are the stories of training ground laxity.
Of course, one swallow does not make a summer, especially when that swallow is swooping around in League One.
But it is also important to remember that emotional maturity – and the sense of responsibility it brings – can take years to develop.
At 22, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was CEO of a global company. At the same age, Jamie Vardy was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels, bothering the Sheffield constabulary and necking vodka every other night. Today, both are millionaires.
These days, Frank Lampard, 38, is a paradigm of respectability, a thoughtful father and broadcaster who once rang a radio station to defend his reputation. Yet, in 2001, he was one of four Chelsea players fined for drunkenly abusing American tourists at Heathrow in the wake of 9/11.
According to Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a neuroscientist at Harvard, the frontal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for reasoning and decision-making, aren’t fully mature until the early 20s.
In other words, young people are preconditioned to make stupid decisions. It’s something anyone who’s ever been 19 and hammered would know anyway.
Oddly enough, Powell acknowledged this in an interview while on loan at Hull in 2016. “I was a dumb little kid who just did as I wanted,” he admitted. “But I’ve now realised you have got to play the game, in a way.
“You cannot say certain things, you cannot do certain things.
“I feel like I have been perceived as a lost cause and a maverick, but I feel that is not the truth.”
Nor should anyone. You wouldn’t blame a kid for failing to grow a beard at 15, so why should we blame a 20-year-old on £5,000-a-week for acting like a big-time Charlie? Not everyone can be James Milner. Powell still has much to prove, but he has an indulgent manager in Paul Cook and a club that work hard to keep him out of the spotlight.
The fact that January interest from Brighton, Bournemouth, West Ham and Crystal Palace was rebuffed with nary a protest from the player is yet another indicator of growing maturity.
Powell, it seems, knows he is in a good place. Now, at 23, it is a chance to show the world he is still that down-to- earth lad who drove a Corsa to Carrington. And that the drink-driving, training-skipping tyro was just a teenage imposter. In an industry where reputation sticks, he won’t get another.