In our weekly Scout feature, Daniel Roberts takes a detailed look at a new emerging talent from world football. Today, we focus on one of the brightest talents in the Football League, Will Hughes.
In light of Will Hughes’ return to action on Saturday after a season-crippling injury, we take a look at the rise of the Football League’s hottest talent.
Born in Surrey, the midfielder moved over to Derbyshire at a young age and joined the city’s football club’s academy at the age of 12 following a brief spell at rivals Nottingham Forest.
Hughes made his debut for Derby’s reserves in September, 2011, and by November the then-16-year-old had been called up to the first team, appearing as a 90th-minute substitute against Peterborough, four days after impressing for the second string against Port Vale.
In the reverse fixture and final match of the campaign, Hughes made his first senior start, helping his side pick up a 1-1 draw.
The following campaign he rubber stamped his name on the team sheet, making 38 appearances and scoring twice. He followed that up again in the 2013-14 campaign, becoming a crucial player in the heart of Derby’s midfield, playing in 48 games and helping the Rams to the play-off final, which they lost to QPR. While the season ended on a low point, Hughes’ performances were rewarded with a place in the PFA Team of the Season.
Last season, once again, Hughes was an important player for his side, making 42 league appearances, ending the campaign with an incredible 86% average pass accuracy, making 1,628 successful passes, creating 46 chances and ending with five assists. He had such an impressive season, he won the Derby Player of the Year, Jack Stamps Player of the Year and Supporters’ Club Player of the Year awards.
Although injury has hindered the midfielder this season, having just 40 minutes’ playing time in Derby’s 38 league games, Hughes will be hoping to come back into the side and finally help Derby reach the Premier League once again.
Even at just 20 years of age, his presence has certainly been missed. Derby head coach Darren Wassall said: “it’s like signing a new player. We have a great squad of players, but to bring Will Hughes back into contention is great.
So why is Hughes so special? At such a young age, his impact on a Championship team over the past few seasons is astonishing. At the age of 18, he had the ability to hold his own in one of the world’s psychical and demanding leagues, while providing a valuable contribution.
The technically-gifted starlet has the ability to run the midfield, work his way out of pressuring situations and help his side earn a foothold in the game. As his passing completion stats show, he has a creative wand of a left foot that provides a forward thinking pass, but he also compliments it with driving attacking runs from midfield.
Similar to Barcelona greats Xavi and Andres Iniesta, players whom Hughes openly states he based his style of football on, he can cleverly cut a defense apart with a decisive through ball and use his quick feet to beat a man.
Standing at just over 6ft tall, he has height, but his build means strength isn’t a strong point of his game. Once he grows older, however, this is something that will no doubt improve.
Internationally, Hughes has been touted as the replacement to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, but although he has the ability to reach those heights, the 20-year-old needs to be plying his trade in the Premier League, pushing the likes of Deli Ali, Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere for a starting berth in the Three Lions eleven.
While he is yet to make his full international debut, he has made 17 appearances for the Under-21s, scoring twice. He is also the second youngest player to ever receive a cap for the young lions too, coming just behind Theo Walcott.
What the experts say
Former Derby Boss Steve McClaren: “Eventually, he will play for a top club, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s still got a lot to learn and we want him to do that here.”
Former England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce: “Will Hughes is a real talent in the Championship and he’s exciting to watch.
Former Derby manager Nigel Clough: “He is as intelligent and level-headed as you can get. Not many of his age play in the Championship and last season – at only 17 – he was remarkable.”
Derby midfielder Johnny Russell: “He is such an important player. You forget how young he is at times and the quality he possesses.”
Where does the future lie?
Although speculation surrounding his future has calmed during his absence through injury, Hughes is still the most sought-after youngster in the Football League.
Since his breakout at 17, he has been constantly surrounded with rumors regarding his future. Premier League giants Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal have all been credited with an interest, on numerous occasions, however he has stuck by Derby in their pursuit to reach the top flight, committing to the club by signing a four-year contract back in July 2014.
He will one day reach the Premier League, though, and if Derby fail to reach the top flight once again, it could be the end of his career at the iPro stadium.
The midfielder has all the potential to replicate Deli Ali’s rise to prominence when he does reach the big stage, and he will no doubt become an important part of the England squad in the future.
It’s certainly not an audacious claim to say he has all the potential to become one of the biggest names in English football, so when he does make the step up, keep a keen eye on him, football fans.
Danny Roberts – @