TTU Awards 2011-12: Young Player of the Season
A couple of the nominees for this year’s best young player — Jordan Rhodes and Matt Phillips — have been so well tracked by the blogosphere that any further attempt to describe their abilities is probably about as welcome as the sight of the Cornish national flag on the Olympic Torch Relay.
Some of our other suggestions have perhaps been less heralded, though. Charlton’s Chris Solly has kept a reasonably low profile in the middlewaters of League 1, but blessed with no little composure, pace or nous, the Addicks’ right-back has been a real success this term, winning both the Supporters’ Player of the Year and the club’s Young Player of the Year trophies. Despite missing out on the divisional XI, Solly should take to the Championship like a duck.
A right-back who followed a slightly different route to the second tier is Burnley’s Kieran Trippier, having left Manchester City to join the Clarets permanently in January following a successful loan spell. It was to be an excellent first season in Lancashire, with Trippier’s hearty and lung-busting efforts awarded with the Player of the Season gong. Newcastle are reportedly considering a move for the young Manc, so his time in the Championship may yet prove to be fleeting.
Elsewhere, Jacob Butterfield of Barnsley was in the running until he suffered a nasty injury at the halfway point; Nathan Redmond dazzled for Birmingham when unleashed by Chris Hughton and Cheltenham’s Marlon Pack had a big hand in their upturn in form.
But for our money Nick Powell of Crewe is just about the most deserving candidate this year, having played a significant part in the Cheshire club’s incredible promotion run-in at barely 18 years of age.
Now attracting interest from a number of the country’s top sides, one would be forgiven for thinking that it’s been a textbook rise from the boot room upwards for the England Under-18 international, but Powell has had to overcome adversity in his first full professional season.
Having endured an ignominious beginning on his full debut, going down 3-0 at eventual champions Swindon on the opening day, Powell was sent off a few games later at Shrewsbury for a lunging tackle after coming on as a substitute. That reverse in Shropshire also happened to be the Railwaymen’s fifth in as many games. Left out for the next six weeks or so, the young forward only returned to the team as part of the side which went down at lowly Dagenham and it took Powell until October to register his first goal.
But just as Alex turned the corner following a backroom shake-up which saw former Northwich Victoria and Nantwich Town manager Steve Davis take the lead, Powell started to live up to his billing as Crewe’s Next Big Thing. Scoring a goal in each of Davis’ first two league games as manager — wins against Morecambe and Hereford — Powell was rarely out of the starting eleven from thereon as Alex climbed the table to clinch the final play-of spot.
While he’s perhaps best known for his physical presence and stunning long-range strikes, one of which sent Crewe on their way in the Wembley final against Cheltenham, Powell has the natural ability to play all manner of roles across midfield and attack. It’s looking increasingly unlikely but, should he stay at Crewe, then he’ll probably continue as a striker given the lack of equally capable players around him; if he moves on and plays in either the Premier League or the Championship next term then perhaps we’ll see Powell moulded into a winger or link-man. Whatever comes, one can be sure that the saturation point in coverage à la Rhodes isn’t far off given the interested parties.