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The 18-year-old has signed a four-year deal with the Premier League giants, and joins the club with a reputation as one of English football's most promising talents

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By Jonathan Birchall

As Nick Powell controlled, pivoted and half-volleyed past Cheltenham goalkeeper Scott Brown 15 minutes into this season's League Two play-off final, Twitter, like half of Wembley, erupted. The 18-year-old, during the biggest game of his life, went viral.

A fortnight on, with Crewe promoted after a 2-0 victory in that game and the attacking midfielder, as expected, having joined Manchester United, @NPowell25 is back amongst the hashtags, trending again.

Not since Dean Ashton has a Gresty Road graduate been part of the mainstream football consciousness quite like Powell, with the former West Ham striker securing an England cap before seeing his burgeoning career cut short at the age of 26 due to an irreparable ankle injury.

The likes of David Platt, who joined the club after being released by United and academy product Danny Murphy preceded Ashton as Crewe's most lauded alumni. Powell should outshine them all.

An attacking midfielder who, unlike other recent United signing Shinji Kagawa, makes early runs with the ball from the centre, Powell dictates matches with an unerring sense of calm for one so young.

With his back to goal, the 18-year-old has a Paul Scholes-like ability to act as the catalyst behind attacks, rather than the beneficiary. His vision and close control may have been honed at Crewe's famed academy, but his moments of brilliance on the ball are borne from something innate - a natural reading of the game that simply can not be taught.

FERGIE'S LATEST FLEDGLING

 POWELL'S RECORD IN 2011-12
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
YELLOW CARDS
RED CARDS
41
16
7
4
1
Beyond that, Powell has shown a finishing ability, notably from outside the area, to justify a more advanced second striker role similar to that of Wayne Rooney in a front two.

League Two's Apprentice of the Year may well be best known for his effort at Wembley but ask those at the Alexandra Stadium and his goals away to both Gillingham and AFC Wimbledon this term were of equal quality.

Powell's ability on the ball and evident self-confidence has often masked his lack of physical presence; the teenager's only obvious weakness in a division where brawn often outweighs brains.

The temptation on United's part, therefore, will be to bulk up their new man to prepare him for the rigours of the Premier League, but the England youth international is often far too elusive for it to matter - no player at Crewe won free-kicks in the 2011-12 season quite like their confident man in the middle.

For most at The Alex's Reaseheath training complex, Manchester United will be seen as the ideal club for Powell to continue his rapid development and a reported £3 million fee, potentially rising to £6m is as good as the new League One outfit could have realistically hoped for.

Sir Alex Ferguson's ability to spot and integrate youth talent is untouchable in the Premier League, and that the Scot visited Gresty Road in May to keep tabs on the youngster as Crewe drew with Aldershot speaks volumes of his admiration for the attacker.

In February, Ferguson admitted his regrets over failing to sign Joe Hart from Shrewsbury when the England goalkeeper was a teenager. Now, two weeks into the transfer window, the United boss seems intent on eliminating the chances of a similar 'what might have been'.

The Railwaymen, named after Crewe's famous station, are used to waving off their most exciting talents and on to greater destinations, but never before has it been quite like this. Powell, barely 18 and already making headlines, is a very special talent indeed.

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