Michael O’Neill has admitted Nick Powell was a problem player – but only because he wasn’t sure where to play him.
O’Neill acknowledged the potential riches Powell brought to any Championship team and the only issue was where and when to dovetail him into his team.
Powell has rarely looked back since, though he has proved his versatility in other positions and may well play on the left again at Blackburn tonight.
“Nick’s an extremely talented player, but managers have probably always had that dilemma about where you fit him into your team,” says O’Neill.
“I suppose from the outside looking in, the thing that’s most impressed me about Nick is his work ethic for the team.
“Until you work with him, you possibly don’t realise he’s such a good athletic player with good running power, good speed, good height, he defends really well at set pieces.
“All things you wouldn’t associate with Nick Powell.
“Everyone knows the skill level he has, the ability to see a pass and to be a goal threat, but he’s been really good for us in those other areas.
“We did struggle a little bit at the start to find out where we could play him in the team because we played with the one and the two with (Sam) Clucas and (Joe) Allen.
“We didn’t really play with the `10’ and that’s probably Nick’s best position.
“Where we asked him to play on Saturday (out on the left), I thought he did a great job on the left.”
And O’Neill says that kind of versatility, and selflessness, is required of players, even those as talented as Powell.
On having the luxury of playing players in their best position, he added: “You don’t always have the opportunity to do that… we’ve lost three players on the left-hand side of the pitch with James McClean, Stephen Ward and Thibaud Verlinden.
“When you play Nick as a `10’ he plays in the inside left channel quite a lot, so where he played Saturday is not a position that’s totally alien to him.
“It maybe just has different requirements when we are out of possession.
“When we are in possession, we still want him to take up the same types of position he would take up normally, but out of possession it’s a different requirement.
“But he has a really good game intelligence. He’s a player that you can speak to on a one-on-one basis.
“He’ll ask you questions and has an opinion on the game, which I think is refreshing, and he’s a very intelligent player as well as a technical player.”