THE forgotten man of Old Trafford forgot that Manchester United were playing in the Europa League this week.
To those who have followed the gradual stalling of Nick Powell’s career over the last couple of years, yesterday’s admission that he was otherwise engaged on Thursday night as United crashed to a humiliating defeat to FC Midtjylland will surely have reinforced the notion that he is one of football’s lost souls.
A player who got a big money move too early and then lost his way amid injuries, illness and suggestions that a loan spell at Leicester City was cut short due to sloppy time-keeping and a poor attitude.
Steve Bruce, however, is having none of it. Ahead of handing the 21-year-old his debut today at Arsenal, the Hull City manager simply laughed when told about Powell forgetting his parent club’s European date in Denmark before insisting the deadline-day arrival is merely misunderstood.
“Nick needs a chance,” said Bruce. “He needs a break and this club could be the perfect platform for him.”
Powell, who moved to Old Trafford from Crewe Alexandra in a £4m deal during the summer of 2012, is happy to receive the backing of his new manager. He knows what others have been saying about him and just wants an opportunity to prove himself.
“I have read the papers, seen the comments and pretty much everything said about me,” Powell commented to The Yorkshire Post.
“I am not a dumb little kid anymore – like I used to be – someone who just did as he wanted, basically.
“I have realised you have got to play the game in a way, the football game. 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. The only way to prove that is to play my football and to show people I am not injury prone or a nuisance.”
A “nuisance” is exactly how Powell was painted in the aftermath of Nigel Pearson sending him packing from Leicester shortly after Christmas, 2014.
He had joined United 18 months earlier, earmarked by Ferguson as the heir to Paul Scholes and a future England international.
Powell scored on his Premier League debut against Wigan Athletic, the manner of the strike being eerily reminiscent of Scholes in his pomp, and a bright future seemed assured for the teenager.
That debut goal proved, however, to be a false dawn as a subsequent bout of illness during that first season at United began an unravelling of his career that, in time, would lead to a conviction for drink driving and that very public rejection by Leicester.
In the aftermath of Pearson sending him back to Old Trafford, Powell was said to be disillusioned with a game he had lit up so brightly when breaking through at Gresty Road.
“I was disappointed with that,” said Powell when asked about the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Foxes.
“One thing that annoyed me is it was being said I was constantly late and that I was a nuisance. But I was late once. I could not even drive and was 40 minutes away so I do not think that was bad going.
“I have nothing against Nigel Pearson, he did a good job keeping them up and now they are flying. I have no anger towards him. It is not a big enough thing to dwell over.”
Today sees Powell return to the big stage for the first time since being a surprise substitution in United’s ill-fated Champions League trip to Wolfsburg.
Defeat in Germany last December condemned Louis van Gaal’s side to the Europa League, where further humiliation was heaped on the fallen giants by Thursday night’s defeat in Denmark to a club that is more reminiscent of a bad hand at Scrabble than footballing superpower. Not that Powell saw United’s first leg defeat.
“I went out for food with one of the players,” he explained. “When I came back it was 9.30pm so I had missed the game.
“I completely forgot about it until I was playing on FIFA with some friends and they said to me, ‘Did you see the United score?’ I said, ‘Why? Who did they play?’
“Then, I realised they were in the Europa League. To be fair, I was shocked they lost. No offence to the team, I cannot even pronounce their name, but I do not know who they are.
“I feel bad for the team, considering the pressure they are under and how they must have felt during the game. United are going through such a bad time that any little bad thing becomes a massive thing.
“I have spoken to a few of the boys since. They are all disappointed. But it will be a different story at Old Trafford, where we need to win.”
As for Powell, his focus is on Hull. After spending the first two weeks or so of his time with the Tigers building up fitness levels, the midfielder is ready to resurrect his career under Bruce, who has already spoken of his interest in making the deal permanent next summer.
“Everything depends on the next three months,” said Powell, “if I have a bad time football-wise, or we could fall out before end of season. It is not a secret I have not got on with some managers.
“Anyway, I am here at Hull now and looking forward. If it goes well, I have already said to my family that, even though it is a longer trip away from home, it would not be a bad move if everything goes right.
“I am determined to impress. I have not had a proper game for two years, just 20 minutes here and there coming on against Bournemouth and Wolfsburg. I have not had a run for two years.
“I just want to prove I am not a lost cause.”