‘Love the game’: Chris Powell talks Sheffield Wednesday, management and swinging on the Hillsborough crossbar
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He’s not been at Middlewood Road long, but the 54-year-old looks at ease in his new surroundings. With a smile he settles into position for what ended up being a 40-minute conversation with The Star, and though the Owls’ facilities aren’t quite that of St. George’s Park or Hotspur Way he appears enthused by the challenge ahead.
“It’s been brilliant,” he begins. “I was so looking forward to that first home game, more than anything. I’ve been here numerous times as a player and as an opposing manager - and that game didn’t let me down. The welcome that I’ve had here, from people I’ve met on trains, trams, on the streets, it’s been really good. Even some from the other side of the city have said ‘Welcome’, anyway. I’m just trying to embrace Yorkshire life again.”
Powell, who was quickly brought in to aid Danny Röhl after he was appointed as manager, is no stranger to God's Own County, of course. He had a stint as manager of Huddersfield Town, and over the course of a career that has seen him play alongside and work with some of the best that England has produced he’s come into contact with a few Yorkshire folk. One in particular will stand out from those of a Wednesday persuasion.
“I spoke to Nige - he still lives in the area. He gave me a real good insight into the area and the people,” he said before chuckling, “He also said I can stop there every now and then.
“But I know about Sheffield, and how proud the city is. I’ve got good insights into the place… I’ve done my homework and I’m glad that I made this decision.”
Nigel Pearson was Powell’s last manager in a long career that saw him win three promotions, star in almost 300 Premier League games, and play for and England side featuring the likes of David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen. He’s been in good company.
Pearson was the one who first planted the seed of coaching in his brain, encouragement that sent him on a path that would eventually lead him to the doors of Wednesday’s training ground in S6 – via Charlton Athletic, Huddersfield, Derby County, Southend United and ADO Den Haag, as well as Tottenham Hotspur and England.
As a manager he won promotion from League One with the Addicks in 2011/12 – finishing ahead of a certain team in blue and white – and many have wondered why, in recent years, he’s settled for roles outside of the spotlight. It turns out it’s very much by choice.
“I had an itch to scratch at the end of my career that I wanted to manage, and people were talking about black managers, so I wanted to do it. I was encouraged by Nigel Pearson, my last manager, as well as Alan Pardew and Alan Curbishley. They said, ‘You could coach, you could manage’, so I wanted to give it a go.
“I was successful at Charlton in the main, won League One and then stayed in the Championship. But things go awry, people have different ideas - and that’s the game. You can be angry at the time, but as you get older you become a bit immune to it. It happens, like death and taxes.
“What you want to do is be remembered, leave a bit of a legacy if you can, and I did my time as a manager - you learn from them all, whether good or bad or indifferent. And I’m a football man.
“I’ve been an assistant, at Derby and in Holland, and I’ve been in the academy at Spurs. I just like football, I like to develop people - whether that be players or coaches - and help them improve. I like to lend my experience, create a good environment and look out for people.
“I love the game. Some people were built to be managers, but I don’t think that’s for me anymore. It’s highly unlikely. I suppose now I don’t really enjoy that side of things, but what I’d like to do with somebody like Danny is be a person that knows the environment. Coaching skills are transferable, regardless of the country, and I’ve seen that with Danny and his staff, but quite clearly sometimes you need an understanding of more - of position, of tradition, what players may or may not like. We’re trying to build a tighter ship, and I think we’re getting that.”
There’s an elephant in the room, of course. One wearing a suit, a red tie, and hanging from the crossbar in front of the Leppings Lane end.
“I knew you were going to ask me about that,” Powell laughs as he puts his head in his hand. “I knew I’d get some stick for that. Obviously the fans don’t want to hear it but we stopped a Sheffield derby in the quarterfinal and then lost. But we knew how much people wanted that derby – it was a Monday night, a lot of Charlton fans got stopped on the motorway and missed a lot of the game, and I suppose I just got carried away."
It's a game that many Wednesdayites remember well. Callum Harriott and Simon Church's goals meant Leon Best's equaliser was in vain, and it would be Powell's party-poopers that faced Sheffield United in the next round of the FA Cup rather than the Owls. In joy he hoisted himself up on the woodwork in front of the away supporters.
“Whoever got that picture makes it look like I’m doing pull-ups and what have you, but I was only up there briefly. I got lost in the moment, I suppose, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You have to enjoy those moments… Just like I did against Rotherham.”
It’s a perfect segue from a man whose vibe is infectious, effortlessly making you feel at ease while also omitting the air of authority that comes with having worked with the likes of Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and more. It’s something he has in common with the Owls’ new top dog.
“Those guys are exceptional,” he said of his and Röhl’s experiences with the cream of the crop. “But you want these guys at Sheffield Wednesday to aspire to get as high as they can get to - especially for the younger ones. And with the more experienced guys it’s about leaving a legacy, because your career goes by in a flash.
“I played for 24 years until I was 40, but it passes you by. And I want these guys to enjoy their careers, enjoy what’s in front of them. You feel like you can play forever, but you don’t. So what’s important is that you understand that the time is now.
“I spoke to them after Plymouth and said, ‘Actually, we have a chance to show people that we can move forward from where we are now… Wouldn’t it be great in a few years’ time you could look back and say you’ve achieved something when everyone has written you off?’ It’s going to be hard, and we’re going to get punches in the stomach this season. We might not get out of it, but you need to go out fighting, go out showing people that you care, and I see that in this group, I sense it.”
This is part one of our exclusive chat with Wednesday's new assistant - with part two to follow in the next few days.