Fresh English talent will emerge, says Will Hughes

Thursday 06 Aug 2015
Will Hughes has been a regular in the England U21 squad for two years now
With the Under-21 Premier League season kicking-off, Will Hughes says he is encouraged by the level of talent being developed there, writes Pete Lansley. 

The England Under-21s and Derby County midfielder has come agonisingly close to reaching the Premier League, with his team conceding a stoppage-time winner against Queen’s Park Rangers in the 2014 Championship play-off final. 

But during international duty with England, Hughes has trained alongside some notable products of the Premier League academies and believes the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) is starting to bear fruit.

Will Hughes on the rampage

Will Hughes scored England's winner in their U21 Euro play-off in Croatia last season

"There are plenty of players coming through who are technically gifted, but just need to be given the chance, whether that’s at international level or club football," said Hughes, who joined his hometown club at the age of 12 before progressing through their academy and into the first team by 17.

"It doesn’t happen overnight."

Hughes epitomises the kind of player the EPPP, which was launched by the Premier League in 2012 to increase and improve clubs’ homegrown talent through improved and consistent coaching, facilities, grass-time and accountability.

Comfortable but progressive in possession and with an eye to open defences through quick decision-making, players such as Hughes, the Tottenham Hotspur pair of Alex Pritchard and Tom Carroll and Chelsea starlets Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Lewis Baker have been coming through the country’s top academies and England age-groups.

With these players following in the footsteps of stars such as Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley, Hughes believes the Premier League could have many English midfield technicians to enjoy in the coming years, if given the opportunity.

“A frightening talent, Pritch has got everything you need. He’s technically frightening, got quick feet, dribbling, shooting – everything.”

Will Hughes on Alex Pritchard 

"Definitely, it does help if a player is gifted at an early age but at the same time, you can see people flourish into footballers if they are nurtured in the right way," he said. 

"Look at the Spanish way of playing, Barcelona’s style. They’re blooded in a certain way of football from such an early age and had such learning time to do that that eventually, 10 years down the line, it appears natural to them. 

"So, it will happen, it is just going to take some years."

Hughes said of Pritchard: "[He's] a frightening talent. Pritch has got everything you need. I don’t see why he couldn’t be a boss in the Premier League. 

"He’s technically frightening, got quick feet, dribbling, shooting – everything."

And he reserved equal praise for Loftus-Cheek, who joined up with England U21s at the end of last season.

"This summer was the first time I’ve trained with him and he’s going to be some player. 

"He has got everything: the power and physical aspect, but very technical as well, and he’s grounded as well, which is nice." 

Hughes is pleased to hear that a 12-year-old now invited to a top club will spend approximately 12 hours on the grass at an academy but also strikes a cautionary note.

"Those 12 hours have to be used in the right way," he admits. 

"You can’t just do the wrong things and say, ‘Yes, he’s had the 12 hours every week so he should be good.’

"Facilities help but you can’t just assume that you put a player into a good facility and he’s going to become a good player. Coaches are one of the main reasons [for development]."

Derby County midfielder Will Hughes.

Will Hughes broke into Derby County's first team at the age of 17 and has now made over 120 appearances for the Rams

And England U21s head coach Gareth Southgate is a big supporter of how the likes of Hughes, Carroll and Pritchard play the game and there is general optimism with the current squad’s performances this past 18 months, even if their group stage exit in the Euro Finals this summer was a disappointment. 

Nevertheless, Hughes, who was part of the squad in Czech Republic in the summer, remains confident that the technical ability of his team-mates bodes well for the future.

"If you’ve got players who are prepared to take control of the football in all areas of the pitch, there’s no reason why it can’t work out," he added. 

"I don’t think people comprehend how much of a game-changer ball possession is.

"You need technique and confidence but it’s also about trusting each other, in tough situations, knowing your team-mate’s good enough to deal with it. 

"If you’re hesitant in the ability of other players, and think, ‘I’m not going to play that pass’, then you’re running into blind alleys or playing the ball long.

“This summer was the first time I’ve trained with him and he’s going to be some player. He's got everything – the physical aspect, but very technical – and he’s grounded, which is nice.”

Will Hughes on Ruben Loftus-Cheek 

"So it is about taking risks, and then it’s about pressing when you do lose the ball, high up, which the Spanish teams do unbelievably well."

As the new Championship campaign approaches, Derby County are among the favourites for promotion.

And should that happen, 20-year-old Hughes is relishing the prospect of testing his abilities in the Premier League under Derby’s new manager, Paul Clement.

"I’m still young, so I’ve got plenty of time to get there, with Derby, that’s the aim," he revealed. 

"But the Premier League’s a completely different ball game to the Championship. From watching it and speaking to people who have played there, the Premier League’s a lot more tactical, a lot more concentration is needed. 

"In the Championship, there’s a lot more running around and long balls, which is a challenge in itself. 

Watch Will Hughes' goal against Croatia in Vinkovci last October

"But then it’s a challenge to remain concentrated in the Premier League for 90 minutes when players are running at you, so you can’t switch off. From what I’ve heard, it’s a bit more of a chess game in the Premier League."

As a member of a new generation of English talent with greater technical and tactical intelligence, Hughes is confident they are all are making the right moves.

Pete Lansley is an FA Level 2 coach who, after 13 years on The Times, is a freelance football journalist also working for Derby County Community Trust.

By FA Staff