Free agents tend to fall between two stools; either injury prone former prospects or players very much in the twilight of their career. Every now and then though, there is one that is in the prime of their career and has somehow slipped through the net.
This year, that is Wigan’s Nick Powell.
Clubs do not tend to allow key assets to run their deals down, but if a player won’t agree new terms, you either cash in or are forced to lump it. Powell joined Wigan as a free agent and will likely leave as one too.
With Wigan scrapping at the foot of the Championship, there’s not really any motivation for him to extend his stay just yet anyway, but all the signs seem to point to him leaving either way.
Powell, 25 next week, was once one of the hottest prospects in the game. He exploded on the scene with a memorable goal in Crewe’s 2012 League Two play-off final victory and was snapped up by Manchester United in a deal potentially worth £6m. Only 18 at the time, Sir Alex Ferguson described him as ‘an exceptional talent.’
It never really worked out there and he spent the next few seasons bouncing around on loan, taking in Wigan, Leicester and Hull. When his contract expired, he returned to Wigan and was instrumental in their return to the second tier last year, making the division team of the year.
Powell was believed to have interested Neil Warnock a couple of summers ago, but he opted for Lee Tomlin instead and the less said about that the better. It remains to be seen if it is a deal that may once again interest Warnock, but it looks like a bit of an open goal. In theory at least.
A central midfielder who can play off a striker, the best way to describe Powell is probably Victor Camarasa-lite. Even if Cardiff stay up, chances are that either the Spaniard may not want to sign permanently or Cardiff probably won’t be able to afford him. So Powell would be a shrewd alternative.
With six goals and six assists in a struggling side, Powell is sure to generate plenty of interest and both Celtic and Rangers have already been credited with an interest. He’s the sort of classy, midfield operator that Cardiff have been crying out for since the departure of Peter Whittingham.
Cardiff face the very real chance that they will lose their entire first choice midfield in the summer, with Aron Gunnarsson shipping out, plus Camarasa and Harry Arter returning to their parent clubs, probably permanently. It is an area of the side that will require urgent attention in the summer, whatever division they end up in.
Who knows how much budget they will have to work with either. With ongoing legal issues relating to the Emiliano Sala tragedy, chances are not as much as people are expecting. Powell would work in either context and also give Cardiff one less problem to contend with.