Fulham manager Martin Jol has been effusive in his praise for one particular target as the January transfer window approaches. The Dutchman may well be attempting to steal a march on his rivals for the signature of Derby County’s Will Hughes simply because he knows there are so many of them, and some have more pulling power than the West London club.
The baby-faced midfielder is considered one of England’s best teenage prospects, and, as he continues to make a name for himself in the Championship, the clubs looking to snare him know that playing the waiting game is likely to prove fruitless.
The time to move is now, and Jol has drawn first. In his comments about the 17-year-old Derby star he proffered his assertion that half of the clubs in the Premier League are currently looking at Hughes, and he didn’t mean the bottom half.
The list of clubs reportedly interested in a move for him is almost obscene: Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are all supposedly keen to take Hughes away from Pride Park in January, and even Barcelona feature on a long list of suitors.
Understandably, Derby manager Nigel Clough is equally eager to keep Hughes at the club for as long as possible. With external interest growing by the game the former Burton Albion boss has made clear his intention to do everything he can to retain November’s nPower Football League Young Player of the Month. He appears to be battling in the face of the inevitable, however, and Hughes is likely to have his pick of glamorous destinations.
The player’s rise to stardom has been remarkable, and he has made over 25 first team league appearances for the Rams and has even begun to make an impact for England.
This time last year he was yet to represent his country at any level – a far cry from the institutionalised youth internationals so familiar to the Football Association – but he has now broken into the Under-17 side and also made a substitute appearance for Stuart Pearce’s Under-21s. In that one brief appearance against Northern Ireland it was clear that Hughes has the potential to become a genuine class act.
It’s easy to see why the superlatives are flowing for Derby’s blond-haired number 19. While not yet the full package, he has the makings of an impressive all-round midfielder. He combines a good work ethic and a bit of bite with a lovely eye for a pass and the ability to make that pass happen with either foot. He’s proficient in tight spots, where his invention, balance and close control frequently get him out of a hole.
Perhaps most exciting from an England point of view, though, are his ability to read the game – with and without the ball – and his awareness of space, when to use it and how to make it work for his team. Derby have some player on their hands – for now, at least.
Hughes has played in each of their 24 Championship games this season, starting 23 and playing the full 90 minutes 13 times. At 17 he is already a pivotal player for Derby but one they’re sure to lose, and almost certainly before next month is out. The only question is to whom. Hughes is about to be a young man with a big and complex decision to make about his development.
(Photo credit: Eamon Curry via Flickr)
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