Derby boss Steve McClaren has confessed midfield starlet Will Hughes may be too good to retain during the January transfer window, with Liverpool currently tipped to win the race for the 18-year-old.
"Our job is to make sure he makes it,” McClaren said, per David Wright of the Daily Express. "Eventually he will be too good. What we need behind that is players coming through to replace him."
According to Wright, Liverpool head the cue for the midfielder as Brendan Rodgers attempts to plan for life after veteran club legend Gerrard:
A host of the Premier League's top sides seem to be biding their time in signing the 18-year-old, who scored in a 3-1 victory over Leeds United on Saturday, but it is expected that thorough scouting will turn into bids in the January window.
Liverpool are leading the chase for Hughes, with the attacking-minded midfielder already been compared with Reds captain Steven Gerrard.
Brendan Rodgers sent chief scout Dave Fallows to watch Derby's Will Hughes on Tuesday. (Mirror)— LiverpoolFC News (@LFCTransferNRS) September 19, 2013
Nick Lustig of the Daily Star predicts Liverpool will face plenty of competition for Hughes’ signature, naming Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal as fellow pursuers.
The Merseysiders certainly have several factors weighing in their favour.
Already likened to Gerrard, the challenge of replacing one of the best midfielders of the past decade would surely appeal to any youngster.
Hughes will also see Rodgers’ inclination to give young players a chance, as he has to Andre Wisdom, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe during his short time at Anfield.
A further factor in Liverpool’s favour is their relative lack of competition for places at the heart of midfield.
Gerrard is in his twilight years, and only Lucas Leiva and Henderson have provided able support to the skipper. Joe Allen has struggled for form at Anfield, while Luis Alberto is earmarked for a more advanced role.
Which club should Hughes join?
Hughes' future will ultimately be dictated by what drives him.
United and City can point to their recent history of delivering trophies, but the struggles of Wilfried Zaha and Scott Sinclair at the respective clubs will serve as a warning.
Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, has a superb reputation for developing youngsters at Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have both become leading Premier League central midfielders under the Frenchman’s guidance.
Hughes certainly appears to be the next man in line to follow the footsteps of Ramsey by making the step from the lower leagues, but he must make sure he gets regular first-team opportunities if he is to fulfill his obvious potential.