For Man United fans, your new target Will Hughes takes little spotting on the pitch. He stands out with his blonde hair as you would expect. You can use the word ‘shock’ if you like. He’s got hair that stands out on the football pitch like Robbie Savage or Jason Roberts used to do. He wears bright boots (but then again don’t all footballers these days?) but the days of plain black unless you were a real star (step forward Alan Hinton and Alan Ball) are long, distant memories…
So Will stands out on the pitch. Big deal. Anyone can have a noticeable haircut or an attitude that scream for attention. Anyone can wear neon footwear. Being noticed is the easy bit, and Will has it easier than most. The difference is when the game starts.
That’s when you notice him. He finds space. He shows for a pass. He takes a battering and doesn’t shirk challenges. He’s slight but wiry. A bit like a terrier but with the grace of a greyhound. He’s good with the ball at his feet. He can do things in a
style. He can deliver a dead ball. He can spot a pass that no one else sees.
He’s the best prospect I’ve seen in a Derby shirt…
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Of course, he is far from the finished article. He’s only 18… But we’ve had a few prospects over the years going back to Steve Powell as a 16 year old in 1971. Not that I saw his debut. I was a mere 6 years old. But Steve was the benchmark for all future Rams prospects. We’ve had a smattering over the years between the Great Days and the Good Days. Players like Kevin Wilson, Lee Carsley, Paul Williams, Steve Cherry. We had players on our books that went elsewhere to build careers. Oh yes, we had a few over the years but since the Academy was established we’ve had a fair number over the past 10 years or so.
And none of them are as exciting as Will Hughes.
In more recent times we’ve seen a number of kids come through. Tom Huddlestone, Lee Holmes, Giles Barnes, Miles Addison, Lee Grant, Lee Camp.
Some we sold too early. Some we let go too cheaply. Some never fulfilled their promise. Some got injured, some left for personal reasons. That’s the way of football. Tom Huddlestone was a man mountain at 16. He was noticed and went to Spurs for pennies. Or so it felt.
Giles was tall and flamboyant. Loads of talent ruined by injury. There was bitterness in the end.
Miles was another big kid. A Ram amongst Rams. But he didn’t quite develop as expected and so he went. Others like Grant, Camp and Evatt have had good, solid careers after Derby. That’s the way of it. But this team has youth all over the place. Some bought in, some home grown. Mark O’Brian and Jeff Hendrick are two fine talents. Add in Michael Jacobs, Kieron Freeman, Mason Bennett and we have a lot of kids coming through.
But Will stands out. Comparisons with Brady as a kid aren’t far-fetched. I saw Liam as a kid and he was exceptional. He’s been compared to
. Again, the comparison isn’t outrageous at all. He has talent in abundance and he is a smart, level-headed kid by all accounts. Nigel Clough said before his sacking that he can achieve anything he wants. I believe him.
I have two fears. One is he gets injured. It’s a risk all kids face and he gets a fair amount of robust challenges. The second is a profound desire to see him move on (as he will unless we do a 1970 season again) to a club who deserve him, respect him and allow him to develop. Somewhere that kids get better.
Man United, pick up the phone. But make sure there’s money in the bank because this kid can be anything, do anything and whoever buys him, even at £15million plus add-ons, will have a bargain.
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