Marcel Brands must strive to seal a loan exit for Everton prospect Rhys Hughes this summer amid mounting Championship interest.
According to the Liverpool Echo, several second-tier sides are eying moves to sign Hughes for the 2021/22 season following his breakthrough in Everton’s Under 23s.
Everton are undecided on sanctioning a temporary move away for Hughes, and could instead look to keep the attacking midfielder at Finch Farm until the January window.
Hughes has two goals and five assists to his name over 18 appearances in the Premier League 2 this season, while starting 14 of his outings and only failing to feature once.
Unsworth has utilised the Wrexham-born playmaker as a versatile weapon in his arsenal, with the set-piece specialist given minutes across the forward line and in all midfield positions bar a holding role.
Liverpool and Manchester United had displayed an interest in Hughes’ potential as a six-year-old, and he has since developed into an all-action midfielder who links the defence and attack, does not shy from a tackle and is comfortable playing with either foot.
Everton are noted to be undecided on sending Hughes out on loan at this stage as they may look to replicate the move secured by Ellis Simms, who joined Blackpool in January and has gone on to score three goals in 11 League One appearances.
But another academy graduate, Beni Baningime, has struggled since departing Merseyside and joining Derby County on loan in the winter market, having featured just twice, been left an unused substitute six times and omitted from four squads by Wayne Rooney.
Everton had hoped to send Baningime out on loan to Blackpool last summer before a deal collapsed following advanced negotiations, and he stuck around to play a key role and occasionally captain Unsworth’s U23s.
Baningime’s struggles to follow that junior role with first-team minutes at Derby should raise enough concerns at Goodison Park over holding out on sending Hughes out on loan, as he will enter the final year of his current contract in June.
Everton would be able to gain a stronger gauge of where Hughes’ talents are by sealing a loan exit as soon as possible, and discovering how far away the 19-year-old – who Unsworth claims is “very, very good” – is from a senior role under Carlo Ancelotti.
If he proves ready for the first-team, Brands can work on tieing Hughes down to a long-term deal but if he struggles, Everton will have an easy out over committing to a contract that they could otherwise live to regret.