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EXCLUSIVE: Nick Powell interview

  /  2021   /  EXCLUSIVE: Nick Powell interview

EXCLUSIVE: Nick Powell interview

A player we have long admired, both in our strip and the colours of other clubs, any Stoke fan would want to read an interview with Nick Powell.

Stoke loud and Proud were contacted by a close personal friend to Powell, asking if we wanted to do an exclusive interview with Nick, something he rarely does. we jumped at the opportunity. Upon much thought, i as owner of SL&P decided this interview needed to be done by someone with experience, the Stoke fans deserved this to be as good of an interview as it could be. I contacted my friend Anthony Bunn at Duck Magazine to see if he wanted to collaborate in this big opportunity. The interview below is what Duck Magazine produced.

Bona fide boy wonder. Bright young thing. Crewe legendWembley hero. Thrust onto the big stage. Old Trafford. Mercurial talent. Unfulfilled. Revitalised at Wigan. Enticed to Stoke. InjuredStruggling team. Months on sidelines. Distrusted. Unfancied. Desperate to play. A longing to leave. Huddersfield away. Turning-point. Playmaker. Entertainer. Enigma. Heartbeat. King-Shithouse. Injured. Huge miss. Comeback trail. Enigma. Aloof. Elusive. No interviews. Until now. 

I meet Nick Powell in Holmes Chapel, eight miles from Haslington, the village he grew up in and a short stretch from Sandbach – home to his schooldays. We meet more-or-less in the middle of Congleton (me) and Knutsford (him). It’s a Cheshire theme, but there has always been more than a fair smattering of the correct version of red and white in these parts. His mate joins us too – Joe – a seasoned Stoke City supporter himself and a childhoodfriend of the main man.

It’s the night after the transfer window shuts. The squad has been refreshed with a dozen ins and outs, but he is focused on re-establishing his own campaign. 

With Powell doing the business at Wigan, Nathan Jones made his move several months before it became public knowledge. Bothwere buzzing, convinced they would each make the difference to the other. We’d recently seen him torment Ashely Williams at our place: a rare mix of strength, skill and courage, brimming with narky needle and nous untilsending a wily old pro bonkers. We’ll have some of that. 

Throughout 2020 and 2021, Nick Powell, when not troubling themagic sponge, lightened the dark days. A box-office player minus his audience for too long. Supporters Player of the Season 2020/ 21. Deadly in the box: a goal every other game before his latest setback. Class on the ball: drifting, probing, orchestrating, penetrating. Slowing the game down with a lighting brain. Off the ball, snapping at heels, an irritant, pressing with purpose – a right pain in the arse for them.  A thrilling mix of street-fighting tenacity and artistic stagecraft.  Off the pitch: private, professional, parent: a dad to three girls.

Over a limeandlemonade, Powell drops his guard and presents a unique and fascinating character. He is a handsome and cool sod, it has to be said. As with many modern pro, he seems less imposing close up than on the pitch, but he is strikingly taut and athletic. A young man with mature outlook. Knows his own mind and then some. A tad shy, yet at the same time seemingly free from self-doubt. Bemused by social media and the constant whirlpool of rumours, he sees himself as the last generation of oldschool footballers. He barely wastes a word. He’s sharp. Perceptive. Honest. Self-critical. He takes no prisoners with his views on anything and everything

Tony Pulis accepted that Ricardo Fuller needed to be dealt with differently, a player ‘dancing to the beat of his own drum.’ Powell is aware of a similar need to be managed in a particular way.Patience. Freedom. Trust. All balanced with discipline and mutual respect. I’d hate to mark him and I’m bloody glad I never had to teach him either. For a manager, he must be both a tasty treat and a tricky prospect. Talk about laid-back. Powell makes our former Jamaican maverick look highly-strung. A few days later, he would clock up 70 FA Cup minutes to add further momentum to the comeback. Afterwards, Michael O’Neil would briefly bemoan him ‘giving the ball away a few times’ but you just knew he was dead chuffed to have his match-winning quality back. And he admires Powell’s intelligence, too, praising his ability to critique his own game, independent of managerial assessments. Powell is ultra-competitive, desperate to do well with us and for us. As with his play, I sense an urgency. Beneath the serene surface, a bristling desire to make sure the next few years become something memorable.

More than this, he seems happy with life and clear on what he wants to happen next. His answer to the night’s final question – the big one – draws a passionate declaration. 

Afterwards, he gifts a pair of signed boots for my boy. Worn throughout those games he bossed during the lockdown period.He didn’t have to do that. They are dinky things – size 8s betraying the big impact he’s already made. If we are to do anything substantial this season or next, you’d think we need Nick Powell to make many more sizable contributions. Whatever happens, he is a player to be enjoyed.

Deadline came and went again and it was a busy one. From a player’s point of view, how do you find all of the ins and outs affects things? 

You have an idea of whose leaving. Players not getting a kick or not named in the squad are obviously likely to be keen on a move. But you are never ever sure who is coming in until it is announced. It’s a strange job in the sense that you can strike up a close friendship over a few months and bang – he’s off plying his trade at the other end of the country. Especially in today’s game with biq squads and loads of late deals. 

I was close mates with Alfie Doughty- he’s now at Cardiff on loan and that came out of the blue I think. He’s played well when he’s had chances – especially at Watford in the cup. Hopefully, we will all benefit from that move and he’ll be back with us – I know he has a long contract so there’s every chance. Sam Surridge was a good mate as well. All the lads loved him. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Most players have ambitions to start every game and he was one of them. He was brought for a pretty penny so I can see why the club would want to recoup the money as well. But I respect players who are desperate to play games rather that sit in the stands.

How are you, fitness-wise, after so long out?

I’m feeling pretty good. It was tough coming on against Coventry with them being so on top. At Huddersfield, it was different. We were in the ascendancy, so I was able to get on the ball and enjoy it. I was knackered after ten minutes though – the intensity is a shock to the system when you’ve been out of it. 

My first injury wasn’t so bad – it was only five weeks out so you don’t lose a lot of fitness and you can get on the bike for cardio quite soon. But this three month lay-off was different. The problem was I couldn’t run until the leg was fully healed. I spoke to a mate in the week before that Bournemouth match and happened to mention how I’d never broken anything, only tending to pick up muscle injuries. Then it happened. I nicked the ball and was kicked on my tibia and broke my fibula. 

Was the young Nick Powell always destined to be a footballer? 

I had a very happy childhood. Mum shows me videos of me opening presents of footballs and kits, with my big beaming smile so I always loved the game. 

I have three older brothers and I was always desperate to join in with their games, especially football. I put much of my progress as a player down to those experiences of having to compete with bigger and stronger boys. Over time, football became easier for me when mixing with my own age group. You get pigeon-holed when you excel at one thing, but I loved all sports at school. 

I didn’t support a team. I went to Crewe because I got free tickets. I only went to watch Stoke once – the day Arron Ramsey broke his leg at the Brit. A friend had a spare ticket. The atmosphere was impressive, but obviously what happened was sad for everyoneinvolved. 

I was never one for worshipping football heroes. Even now, I only watch games that I think will entertain me. I admire teams romping away with league titles at the top of their game. I find it fascinating to watch how their extra quality kills teams off.

Did you play for a team as soon as possible then?

Yes – often a few teams at once. Crewe Terriers were first – my brother’s team who were all a year above me. It was impossible for my parents to get four boys to different destinations every weekend, so I played with them. Luckily, they let me. It brought me on big-time. It was a similar development path young players need when they leave the under 23s and go on loan to a team fighting for its life in league matches. You need to know if you can handle the competitiveness and if it can bring the best out of you. 

Next, I went on play for Sandbach Hayes – again the teams were a year above me. I was spotted when I was aged just six. Crewe had a big community scheme where they’d send coaches all around, putting sessions on for the local kids. I was playing at Shavington when a coach told me I should go for it at Crewe. So, I began training with them once a week. Initially, they thought of rejecting me until they realised I was a full year younger than all the other lads in my group. As soon as they realised, it was on. And the following year, it went from there.

Your Crewe career was short but memorable. In your second season, you played 45 games, scoring 16 goals, including the iconic play-off final winner at Wembley. What was the key to your success?

A combination of things. My talent. Their coaching. The clear pathway Crewe give to good young players. From my point of view, it was not a story of hard work making the difference. I wanted to have fun attraining and win matches. The hard work as less appealing. 

I was a determined player during the actual match. I loved the game that much and wanted to win so badly that I would run through brick walls to win. But they had to manage me very carefully. Actually, I was horrible to manage. I always wanted my own way. If any decision went against me, I’d just lose it. I would often boot the ball off the pitch and ruin it!

I hated losing. I was horrible to anyone who got in my way. Whetherthat be a player, teammate referee, coach or even a player’s dad on the side-lines!

Crewe coach you to become footballer. Colin Little is now a coach at Man United, but he is an ex Crewe coach – he coached me for a while. We’ve kept in touch for years and we talk about the coaching methods clubs use. Crewe need to make money off you, so they aim to develop the whole player as an accomplished ball-playing individual. Man United coach you to win trophies by creating a team unit. Crewe personalised their drills and focused on technical aspects. At United, it was more about ensuring a flowing team dynamic. Me and Colin thought that if you could somehow combine the two, you would have one brilliant set-up. 

When did you realise you were going to ‘make it’ as a professional? 

I was about 14, I think. In my head, I knew it as early as that. That meant I rejected all homework and putting the effort into to most lessons. ‘No thanks, I’m sorted, cheers’ – that was my attitude. Luckily, it did turn out that way for me. It’s a good job or I’d be in a world of pain now. I’m still not too bad at Maths though.

Tell me about the big move to Old Trafford…

I joined United for Alex Ferguson – simple as that. If it wasn’t for him, I’d have signed for Wenger at Arsenal. You hear about what a legend Fergie was, but I wasn’t usually one to get swept off my feet by someone’s reputation. Then I met him. You just want to play for him., He had such an aura, it’s hard to describe. It sounds weird unless you’ve experienced the same thing. 

You’ve talked in the past about why your Old Trafford career never took off… about the step-up in terms of the hunger, desire,and intensity of their first-team players. How do you look back on it now?

I probably never expressed myself well on this. I ruined my own Man United career by not trying hard enough. Simple as that. 

Fergie left after my first year and that knocked me back. Loan spells followed and all the time I’m unsure of my status at the club and how my future will map out. I can moan about not been wanted or having injuries or not enough chances to prove myself, but now I know the truth: it was down to me not working hard enough at it. Ask anyone at Crewe – I never put maximum effort in during the week or the build-upto games. I just came alive and tried to do the business on a Saturday. 

When you are young, physically you get away with it more because of your body development and the extra energy levels. 

Who impressed you most at United? 

Robin Van Persie. He was on a different level. In training, he was an animal. Every session. He wanted to be the best and usually he was.He wasn’t physically the quickest or the strongest. I loved how his ability, how his touch just stood out. Technically, he was unreal. And his finishing was a dream to watch. (Joe: Nick’s biggest claim to fame is hugging Van Persie after a goal once!)

Your loan spell at Leicester in 2014 was short-lived…

(A pause and a wry smile before a chuckle). Let’s just say it wasn’t the right fit. I had a bad feeling from the start. Nigel Pearson was manager and he didn’t meet me to speak to me on the day of the medical. My agent suggested I could leave it but I was desperate to prove myself in the Premier League. It was a late night decision and I just went for it. It just didn’t click between Pearson and me. We were polar opposites. He took a military approach. Everything was routine and regimented, always by the book. The opposite of me! We just annoyed each other I think ha ha, and it went back and forth in a cycle, tit for tat. I only played three games…. 

After a successful loan spell at Wigan, you eventually signed permanently in 2016. You settled well. What made it work?

Position-wise, I was playing number 10, behind Will Grigg who was on… you know… yep…fire. That combination worked well. 

My first year there was on loan in 2014. We had a good year and squad, and made the play-offs. We should have gone up. We’d been relegated but had a Europa League spell after we had won the FA Cup. Owen Coyle signed me, but he was sacked halfway through. Uwe Rosler replaced him. We ended falling out but I liked playing for him. There were no previous issues. I’d happily work with him again. He tried to sign me a year after.

Basically, I was frustrated with my own game. He was happy with the team results and league positon but I felt I was below my best. While I was desperate to help Wigan get up, I also had Man United on my mind. I was always concerned that if I wasn’t standing out, I’d never get a chance back at Old Trafford. Signing for good gave me clarity.

I came to love it at Wigan. I loved the people there – everyone in the building from canteen staff, to players’ liaison and through to the coaching staff – a good vibe and a happy place to work. Some players get into a zone and block out an atmosphere around a club. I like getting to know people and have fun. When everyone is happy, I’m happy. We played some good stuff, winning the League 1 title with nearly 100 points under Paul Cook. Good times.

In the summer of 2019, you signed for Stoke. How did the move happen?

Believe it or not, I had a similar feel about Nathan Jones as I had with Alex FergusonHe was an infectious character, so enthusiastic about the game and clear in his vision for me and for my own role in the team. He said I would play every time I was fit and that the diamond formation would suit me perfectly. He made me want to become a better professional footballer. There was a lot of interest in me from other clubs but I wanted to sign for Stoke……

Jones convinced me that it would be great for both parties. He got something extra out of me. He monitored me and the other lads during the off-season. Throughout the whole six week break, he had clear expectations of our fitness levels. That was new and inspirational to me. I suddenly felt the urge to prove myself to everyone by giving my own preparation 100% effort. At the age of 25, he was the one who motivated me fully to want to become the best I could be. I said then – I will have this same approach until the day I retire.

You had some bad luck with injuries and the results never came – can you explain what happened? 

From my point of view, it was fine at the start. Nathan Jones gave the job absolutely everything. He was desperate to make Stoke successful, and I was desperate to reach top form and peak fitness to repay the faith he showed in me. 

On my debut against Reading, I was booted in the calf and it popped. A really annoying injury – not a bad one but it just seemed to linger and I was out for nearly 8 weeks. By the time I returned we still hadn’t won and he was under fire. Maybe he was unlucky. But the players we had probably didn’t suit the diamond. He did try to tweak it a bit, but he’d had so much success with it at Luton, he was all in. He couldn’t get his head around it not working. 

But he’s doing a great job at Luton now. He put some excellent sessions on the training ground. He is a great coach and a great guy. He often texts me. He texts me after games, still offering me encouragement to do at Stoke what he signed me to do. Even after we beat them 3 nil.

Michael O’Neill took over in the November with a tough job on. What were your initial impressions?

We didn’t get on at the start. I didn’t play for the first 2 monthsunder him. He told me that he’d heard I wasn’t fit enough. The irony is, six months earlier, he’d have been 100% right. But not then.

From meeting Jones for the first time to today, as I sit here, I’ve worked my nuts off, giving my all to prove any doubters wrong. Inside I was raging. I was so frustrated.

For the first time, in my career, I was working as hard as I could possibly work and yet I was getting zero rewards for it. I was ultra-professional and ultra-fit but had no chance to show what I could do in matches. But I respect he had a challenge on his hands. He had to make sure a big club didn’t get relegated and for him, it’s about a squad not individuals, obviously. 

You could see his ideas. He scraped everything back to basics and sent clear messages out so we could start picking up points. He didn’t have the luxury of easing into the job. Many of his early games in charge must have felt do or die to him. It’s clear to everyone that he’s done a good job – we’ve come a long way since then. 

But personally, I was pretty deflated. I’m thinking, I’ll have to look at a move away in January so I can get a game. I thought about Wigan, but my agent pointed out that they were relegation rivals, so that was off the cards. On Boxing Day, I was in the stands for the Sheffield Wednesday game and again at Fulham away (29th). I travelled down to Craven Cottage and was told to get running on the pitch before the game only to be told I wasn’t even in the squad. At that point my head had gone. I just wanted a chance to fight for my place.

Three days later. New Years Day 2020. Huddersfield away. A huge turning point?

As I see it, my Stoke City career started that day. I scored and we demolished them 5-2. A really good performance which meant we climbed out of the drop zone. I linked up well with Tyrese and Sam Vokes that day – we all played well. 

I don’t know why I started. It might have been a case of fresh legs or it could have been to send a message to other players who hadn’t done the business at Fulham. Maybe I was a last resort – the only one left who only one who hadn’t had a go! It felt like it was sink or swim. Possibly my one and only chance. After that I was pretty much a regular in the team and I started really enjoying my football. We showed good form and I felt I was influencing games again, right up until I bagged a couple in that 5-1 win over Hull before the break came.

Covid arrived and we went over 3 months without a game. How did you find lockdown?

I just got my head down and carried on the work ethic from the previous year. I totally prioritised my fitness levels and diet. I ran every day, bought gym equipment home for the first time. It wasn’t always easy to find a pitch to work on in Knutsford. Primary Schools were out of bounds and the local parks were not in the best condition. I did some runs on poor surfaces – those fields were killing me. So, it was down to lots of road runs. I did use the treadmill I bought but I stopped because it couldn’t keep up with me! 

In the end we survived, and it was job done. You arrived a year after relegation form the Prem. You must have heard claims that the Clayton Woods culture was behind many of Stoke problems –  how did you find it? 

I can’t comment on things before my time. But I do think there is a difference between a toxic culture and a club low on confidence. I guess players must have felt pounded after relegation then another disappointing season afterwards. Finishing 15 or 16th isn’t going to lift the mood at a club like Stoke. When a team is on a downer for so long, it can be tough to turn around. 

After lockdown, we only confirmed we were safe after the 45th game. It took us ages to win our first game. So that is virtually a full season with the shackles on. You saw the difference in the last game when we battered Forest at their place. As for now – it’s a lovely place to work. The staff are amazing and they are all nice people behind the scenes. I have no direct affiliation to Stoke, but it doesn’t feel that way. I have always lived not too far away and I have plenty of friends who support Stoke. 

I now have a strong second hand connection to the club. Stokies are friendly, down to earth people. They tell you what they think of you, good and bad but they are friendly. I love my routine. I get to work early with Steven Fletcher – coffee, breakfast or sometimes gym club. We play darts after training. It’s a good place to be.

We faded away after a good start last season, although things went well for you personally. This season, we’ve been inconsistent, but again, you were on fire before the leg break. How do you judge our current form?

Our biggest miss has been Harry Souttar. He was just so pivotal to the way we were trying to play, bringing it out from the back. He is one in a million – a man mountain with a velvet touch. He can ping it to feet from 50 yards while stopping the opposition from hurting us. An outrageous player. 

I was really enjoying it before the injury. Me, Sawyers and Vrancic are all quite flexible so we could tweak the formation in midfield and try to dominate the ball. It seemed to really suit us. We played really well in some games. In terms of general play, we were pumping some decent teams. Opposition managers and players were saying how hard we were to play against – others fancied us to challenge near the top. 

We have just struggled to kill teams off in tight games. Take Preston away or Barnsley at home – we should have been out of sight. At Sheffield United we went from being in control to behind in a few minutes. I was fuming after the game at Preston. We played some great stuff and I missed a really good chance. So frustrating. The West Brom game was similar – we only scored one when we could have smashed them. We need to be moreclinical when we are on top. 

In the Championship, you have to finish teams off. Teams who have been battered for half an hour without conceding start to believe and get a second wind. This division can swing like that so you have to take advantage when you can. 

We’ve had horrendous luck with injuries – someone told me last week that when I came on at Huddersfield, it was the first time in 416 days me and Tyrese had been on the same pitch together! As a squad we talk about the need to maintain good form and go on a good run. We are a changing team though, with new playerssettling in again. Maybe our style depended on certain key players too much? Let’s hope we can find some consistency and get intothe top 6.

Are you different with managers as a person now you are older?

Yeah, I always needed to remember to respect that managers are desperate to make clubs successful and have to implement a structure. I can present a challenge to that in some games. I’m the one who, if it isn’t working, tries to make things happen in my own way. If that comes off, happy days and credit to me, but if it doesn’t……..

I think after Huddersfield, the boss was just glad to have me back available. There’s always a chance of a rollocking but I think hemanages me well and cuts me some slack at times.  

You are hardly a luxury player, Nick – the supporters particularly like the element of ‘shithousery you bring…

I do enjoy annoying players who are marking me. I look to gain an advantage. Anything to get under their skin and put them off their game. If I’m chasing a player down and if I can nick it off him before he knows I’m even there, I love that because I get right in his head and he has to worry about me for the rest of the game. Just make him play worse.

I love winning the ball back. That element of cat and mouse fires me up. But I always work hard for the team. I know some people saw me as a soft touch but that’s never been true. I love the battleand getting one up on my marker. 

I think supporters appreciate me. Once I get angry, I feel even more motivated. If I get kicked, I’m even more desperate to win. I remember when I got sent off against Middlesbrough. We were 2 nil down and the game was gone. They were starting to take the piss a bit and I wasn’t having that – they took it too far…… 

What does it take for you to maintain peak form?

I felt really as good as ever from that Huddersfield game in 2020all the way through to the broken leg. I work really hard to minimise the risk of muscle injuries. After meeting Nathan Jonesand hearing his expectations, I told my missus that a healthy diet was a must. That was a problem for me in the past. I’m vegan now. Other than that, it’s just a case of working hard, feeling wanted and just being happy.

What are your plans long term?

I’m only 27 and I want to get to twenty years in the professional game – so that’s from age 16-36. If that means dropping down to the lower leagues at a later stage, so be it. Maybe get to 40 playing for the Dog & Duck!!!!. Then I see myself walking away from the game. No coaching, no media – a clean break. My missus has plans to develop a career in finance so I will be on dad duties. 

Can you guess the most common question Stoke supporters want an answer to? (Big grin on his face). The contract? 

People are desperate to know if you see your future with Stoke…

People are aware of the contract situation – with Stoke having the option to extend by a year. I don’t want to avoid the question here. Put it this way – I want to leave my mark at Stoke and that hasn’t happened yet in my opinion. 

In ten or twenty years’ time, if people look back at the 2020s and see that my time ended where we are now, I’d feel disappointed that it finished without something great to remember. I’d love to make a bigger impression, one that will be remembered. We’ve all been through a period of transition with relegation, FFP, Covid…. I don’t want my time to be associated with just that. I want there to be a time in the future where it changes for the better and I was part of something at Stoke that really mattered to people. If people say Stoke had a bad time but Nick did well, that’s not enough. 

I want more than that. For example, I love working with Rory Delap. He’s a top man. He’s the only bloke his age who can just walk onto a football pitch in a morning without a warm-up and absolutely t*** a ball at full pelt! He is Stoke legend. He was there for the good times and now he has seen the bad times. You can see it hurts him. But he can say he was part of something special at Stoke. I would look like to be able to look back one day and say the same.

QUICK-FIRE

Stoke player on your quiz team? Joe Allen – I do crosswords and I go over to him and ask for help when I’m stuck. 

Club joker? Dean Holden is Mr Happy. He is always bouncing around, geeing people up. He loves life and gives the place a lift. I have to tell him to f*** off when I’m still waking up with my first coffee! 

Best mates in football? Nathan Byrne and Sam Johnstone

Most treasured memorabilia? I give it all away to my parents.

Memories for playing for England at various levels? It felt nice when I looked down at the badge Film? The Harry Potter movies have just taken another battering. 

Music? Whatever the radio presenter chooses. They can decide.

Book? A crossword book.

Hobby?  Golf, but I’m crap.

Most expensive item? A car. But I’m tight. 

Advice you’d give to the teenage you? Look after your body. Be more like Ronaldo.

Two ninjas break into your house in the middle of the night.Choose 1 person to call? Steven Fletcher. He is a monster. And he’d be here in 2 minutes because he lives just around the corner! 

Aspect of your game you criticise the most? All of it.

Lee Hawthorne

@ORFYDUCKMAG

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