Everton Under-23s midfielder Rhys Hughes has revealed how he is closely observing Colombian superstar James Rodriguez as he seeks to advance his game
Hughes, 19, is enjoying his first season as a permanent member of David Unsworth’s squad and will be hoping to see action when the young Blues take on West Ham United at Southport FC on Monday night (7pm).
The match is being streamed live on Everton's Official YouTube channel, with 1987 league title winner Ian Snodin joining Darren Griffiths to provide live commentary.
A versatile and technically-accomplished footballer, Hughes is comfortable operating from a central midfield role or from either flank.
Hughes admits his appreciation of James’ quality has sky-rocketed since the playmaker arrived at Goodison Park this summer from Real Madrid.
And the young Welshman says he is eager to learn from the 29-year-old’s movements and decision-making in the final third of the pitch.
“When I was younger, I actually always looked up to Cristiano Ronaldo, even though he’s a totally different player to me,” Hughes told evertonfc.com.
“But seeing James Rodriguez come here to Everton… I’d obviously seen him play in Spain and in the World Cup, but you don’t realise how good he is until you watch him week in, week out.
“He has the same type of style as me, coming in off the sides and trying to create things.
“To watch him closely has been really good – that’s how I want to play. You can always learn from watching a player like James.”
Hughes has featured in all but one of Everton Under-23s’ Premier League 2 matches this season, having been promoted from the Blues’ Under-18s set-up.
He says his transition to a higher level of football has been aided by the intensity of boss Unsworth’s training sessions.
“It is a big step up,” said Hughes, who is a current Wales Under-19 international.
“The physicality is one of the main things. The tempo of the game is much quicker in the Under-23s, especially in the midfield area.
“In those tight areas I like to play in – you get half the time, if that, on the ball [as you would in Under-18s matches].
“You have to think quicker and you have to play quicker. And in the physical side, you have to look after yourself. You can’t get bullied.
“The training intensity is really important. Unsy wants us to train hard, but he is fair at the same time.
“He’ll make sure we’re working to the maximum. Matches are obviously even more intense but the training we do gets us as near to that level as we possibly could.”
Hughes signed a first professional contract with Everton in January, penning a two-and-a-half-year deal until June 2022.
The teenager joined Everton aged five and says his progress is testament to the high-calibre coaching and wraparound support provided by the Club.
“The Academy is second to none,” added Hughes.
“There is no way I could be the player I am now without the support from the coaches and everyone off the pitch, too. The physios, sports scientists, everyone has been great.
“There is a really good feeling at the Club, which there always has been at the Academy.
“To come all the way up through the age groups at Everton makes me very proud.
“I’ll be forever grateful for what the coaches and the whole of the Academy have done for me.”