Will has been out for a while now and our results have suffered without him. Nigel Clough has recently taken to using his absence, along with the injuries to three more of our best players (Ward, Brayford, Bryson) as a fairly reasonable excuse for the complete collapse of our form.
We know that Brayford and Ward have succumbed to hamstring injuries and that although Bryson is out with a groin problem, he will be rushed back as quickly as possible. Ward, Clough has said, might also be ‘risked’ for the Leicester City game, given that a televised pummeling at the hands of the Foxes would be a bad business all round.
However, unlike the other injury victims, there has been no word on a return to action for Hughes, who has missed the last five matches after being subbed off against Wolves.
Clough has explained that it’s simply been too much for a 17-year old to play so many games in a short space of time – especially with opponents targeting him for close and at times brutish attention – and so he will not be rushed back or pressured to return until he is ready, even if that means him missing the rest of the season.
Hughes wasn’t expected to play so many matches this season, or to become such an integral member of the team. And his star has not burned as brightly this year as it did earlier in the season, when his barnstorming performance against Leeds United confirmed him as one of the best midfield prospects in English football. But take a walk along Paranoia Lane with me and let’s look for a hidden agenda, which in all likelihood does not exist…
What if, just what if, the injury was not really as bad as all that? What if Hughes could actually come back and play, if not the Leicester game, the Bristol City home game on 29 March – a good six weeks on from Wolves – but a decision has made that he will not be risked regardless? Not because he is cream-crackered or still struggling with his groin, but because an understanding has been reached with a Premier League behemoth for his transfer in summer?
Poppycock! I hear you cry.
Indeed. I’m 99% sure that this is just me spinning webs and spouting nonsense. I should get out more, as one Twitter troll informed me recently. But it’s not totally implausible.
Let’s say that Global Brand FC have decided to invest in the rarest thing since the Unicorn – an English midfielder who can pass properly – and have had words with Mr Rush to the effect that a certain sum of money might be forthcoming in the summer, if we could bear to part with his services. That sum of money, while pretty much loose change for the Sky-fuelled Premier League aristocracy, would be eye-watering for a club stuck in a stagnant Championship rut, faced with mounting fan pressure to actually do something, looming Financial Fair Play constraints and a parsimonious business model that is starting to resemble the stance of King Canute in its obstinacy.
Let’s have a wild stab in the dark and say that this entirely hypothetical figure is £10,000,000 (plus add-ons when he makes a certain amount of appearances and more when he makes his debut for England.)
With a chunk of that money, Nigel Clough could finally go out and sign a proper centre forward – the kind of striker that he has been dying to sign every since he joined Derby. Hell, he could even bolster the defence as well, maybe even bring in an extra midfielder. In other words, by sacrificing Hughes, who would go with everybody’s best wishes, the promotion push that fans are demanding as payback for their hard-earned season ticket money could finally be financed.
The positive press attention that the club would generate from having produced a potential England international for one of the top clubs would be huge. Derby would be roundly praised for its outstanding commitment to youth development and everyone would pat us approvingly on the head, holding us up as a shining example for other Football League clubs to follow.
But hang on.
Let’s say that Leicester beat Derby on Saturday, in the 5:20 televised kick-off. Earlier on the same day, Barnsley improbably beat Watford, just as they improbably beat Brighton in midweek. Peterborough win at Blackpool (who have had a pretty ordinary season themselves) and Wolves lurch back towards safety by finally getting their act together and thrashing Bristol City at Molineux.
Suddenly, Derby, on 45 points, are just three points ahead of the Posh in 22nd and seemingly staring League One-related meltdown in the face. Disaster!
But don’t panic – the likes of Ward, Bryson and Hughes, risen like Lazarus from his groin strain, are all passed fit to turn out against bottom-of-the-league Bristol City at Pride Park in the next game.
Making light of the mounting pressure, Derby storm into a 2-0 lead thanks to a Chris Martin brace and all looks well, with Hughes conducting proceedings from the centre. But then, suddenly, as Hughes pops off another accurate pass, a lumbering Robins midfielder, already committed to a lunging ’50-50′ tackle, goes straight through the young maestro. The offender is red-carded, but unfortunately, that’s the least of anybody’s worries. Hughes is badly hurt. He is stretchered from the field and a horrified hush settles over the ground.
Derby go on to play out a devalued win, taking them to 48 points and, with the traditional 50-point target in view and three more home games to come, the verge of safety. With Peterborough losing heavily to Cardiff and Barnsley defeated at Sheffield Wednesday, the Rams are to all intents and purposes, safe.
But Hughes’ leg is broken.
Global Brand FC get in touch with Mr Rush on the Monday. They are very sympathetic, of course. But obviously, the deal is off the table until the player can come back from his injury. They will maintain an interest and will be watching him, as soon as he is back to fitness, they will be on the phone…
Summertime rolls around after a mildly depressing end to the season and Derby’s Plan A to progress in 2013/4 is out of the window. With Hughes embarking on a long-term rehab programme, the rest of the squad prepare for the new season, as Clough goes back into the bargain basement market that he has become habituated to trawling. Uninspired by the calibre of signings coming in and reasoning that they can pick up cheap tickets for most games thanks to Digonex’s Deal of the Week, many season ticket holders decide to bin their renewal packs.
Derby start the season in pretty much the same way they flailed through the second half of this season and, with Barker and Hughes watching from the sidelines, the calls for Clough’s head intensify…
All because Hughes was risked in what turned out to be a meaningless game against Bristol City.
Can you see what I’m driving at now? Realistically, with home matches against Bristol, Ipswich, Peterborough and Millwall coming up, we should be absolutely fine. And we certainly aren’t worrying the top six. We will be going neither up nor down. So if there’s an opportunity to transform Derby’s short-term future by doing a lucrative deal for a genius player who has been serendipitously bestowed upon a club in dire need of funds, why jeopardise that by asking him to play?
Of course, this is all bollocks and here’s the real reason for Hughes’ absence, as told by Clough to the Currant Bun….
“He’s already played 30-odd games and he’s physically not fully developed. He could have played 30 games this season, but to play them over six months puts too much strain on his body.”
That is the official line and there is no need to doubt it…