Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has dismissed talk of a bid for Derby's teenage midfielder Will Hughes.
Rodgers fears that the 18-year-old's development could be damaged by constant speculation linking him with a move to Anfield after a number of reports over the last few months suggested that the England Under-21 international is a target. Some reports had gone as far as to claim that a 12 million pounds fee has been agreed.
Sources have always suggested to ESPN that no such deal was on the cards, and Rodgers has taken the unusual step of commenting publicly on the speculation in an attempt to quash it.
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He said: "Listen, I never normally say anything when it's speculation about players, but I've got to say that I do really feel for this young guy. This is a brilliant, talented young player that either a person or a group of people aren't doing any favours whatsoever by constantly linking him with coming to Liverpool.
"I read something that said we'd put in a bid, or that something had been agreed. There's nothing further from the truth."
Rodgers believes that Hughes will be best served continuing his education at Derby under former England manager Steve McClaren. He added: "He's a young kid learning the game. He's at an outstanding club, in Derby County. He's got a great manager there. We sent one of our young players [right-back Andre Wisdom] there to develop and learn.
"I think Will Hughes is a wonderful young talent who just needs to play football. And for me, he's probably at the best place he could be. This is something that's been ongoing. Speculation is something I never normally comment on. But I have the interests of the player at heart.
"This is a kid who, if he picks up the paper every day or every weekend, he'll see he's linked with Liverpool. I think he's in a good place. There's been no bid, there's nothing. We will do what we do. We're always looking for talent – young players, senior players. He, among many other players, is probably one we've looked at."
Rodgers is adamant, though, that he is keen to develop young players at Liverpool, a point he emphasised following the sacking of Academy director Frank McPartland and Academy technical director Rodolfo Borrell on Wednesday.
The Liverpool manager has highlighted his own background in the development of young players, having been a former Academy director at Reading and head youth coach at Chelsea.
Rodgers issued a warning to the club's young players last month after declaring that winger Harry Wilson was not yet good enough to play for Liverpool's first team despite becoming Wales' youngest-ever debutant.
At the time, the manager had just recalled two young players early from loan spells -- midfielder Joao Carlos Teixeira from League One Brentford and striker Michael Ngoo from Championship side Yeovil. And he gave the impression then that he felt some of the club's young players were not coming up to scratch.
Rodgers, though, insists that there will be a path through to the first team for the club's Academy graduates if they are good enough. He said: "I think the biggest thing I can give people is an opportunity. And then it's a case of taking that opportunity and giving young players hope.
"A lot of my life was spent in youth development, so I understand it. I was an Academy director at Reading, so I understand all facets of development. That's something that's very important to us. And that's something that will never change. I'll always look for that.
"It's very difficult for young players now but they will always get a chance here if they're professional and show that quality. If it's not at an early stage, I think in the last year, we had players at 17 years of age, playing 18, which is unprecedented in the Premier League.
"There'll be a pathway here for all the players, and if they break through early and can't sustain it, then it can happen naturally. It might need a loan period. As long as they're ready by 20 or 21, that's what Academies are all about. They're a place to learn and develop, and ultimately get through into the first team.
"That's why there's so much invested in it here at the club. That's why we put so much work into it -- in order to get the players through."