Sam Hughes paid a glowing tribute to Chester FC and all those who have helped him along the way after sealing a dream move to 2015/16 Premier League champions Leicester City last week.
Hughes, 20, has signed a three-year deal at the King Power Stadium for a fee understood to be in the region of £130,000 with add ons, and will be part of their under-23 set up next season, just five years after joining the Chester academy from his local side, West Kirby Wasps.
Fast forward to 2017 and Hughes has earned himself a move to the Premier League with Craig Shakespeare’s Foxes side and, in the process, helped boost the finances of the club who developed him.
It is a dream come true for the down to earth lad from the Wirral who holds the honour of being the youngest captain in Chester history after skippering the side as a 19-year-old.
“Chester is all I have known, really, and I owe an awful lot to an awful lot of people who believed in me and kept faith with me,” said Hughes, who joined the club as a 15-year-old after being spotted by Bernard Concannon playing in the Wirral League on a cold February morning.
“This move is a dream come true for me and something that most lads just never get the chance at and I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to get there. I think that is shows that there is a pathway for lads to get as far as they want in the game. Five years ago I was playing Sunday League football and since then I broke into the first team, became captain and managed to make this move. It can be done and other lads need to see that.
“I never went to an academy, not that I had anything against that, it was just that this was the best route for me and I made the decision at the time that Chester would provide me with the best chance to play football and develop. It was the best decision that I have ever made.”
Hughes was quick to thank the coaches who have helped him in his career, reserving special praise for academy head coach Calum McIntyre.
“There are so many people that have helped me at the football club, but Calum is Calum,” he said.
“I’ve worked with some great people at the club but there has been no other person who has helped me and been better for me than Calum. The way he is with the young players and the way he gets them to play, all that makes a massive difference to lads in the academy team and he is one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked with. He was massive for me at Chester and I’ll always be grateful to him for his help.
“I can’t not say thanks to Steve Burr either. He gave me my debut and played me at a time when we were struggling and facing a lot of pressure and trying to avoid relegation. And then there’s Jon McCarthy. He really gave me a big chance last season and stuck with me at times when some others might not have done. He also gave me the honour of being Chester captain and he has been great with me through this whole thing.
“I have to say thanks to the fans as well as they have been amazing with me and always supported me and willed me on to do well. I’ve always appreciated that.”
Hughes’s move to Leicester has provided Chester with a major boost to their finances and, should he go on to flourish at the Foxes, the club could be rewarded even more handsomely further on down the line.
Understandably delighted to make the switch to the East Midlands side, Hughes acknowledges that there is some sadness at leaving the Blues behind but takes plenty of comfort from knowing his hard work and talent could see the club flourish in the future.
“It is nice to know that the club benefit as they have developed me into the player I am today,” he said.
“It’s a superb club and I’ll be sorry to have to leave. I have been in my comfort zone there and really enjoying myself, but this was an opportunity I just couldn’t turn down. I could have stayed another year but I felt now was the right time.
“I don’t want to put this all down to me or anything like that, I’m just happy that I have helped the club a little bit and showed that there is a pathway for lads at Chester and that you can make it. It’s a great place to learn your trade.”
Hughes had admitted to some frustration back in January at being denied the chance to move to Championship side Barnsley after Chester rejected a deal worth £80,000 for the then 19-year-old.
But the centre back had words of thanks for the club in holding firm back then and says it has worked out even better than he could have imagined.
“I suppose I was a little bit frustrated back then as it was a position that I’d never experienced before, but the club did right by me and them and they were right to reject that offer,” he said.
“I could have tried to force a move through but that isn’t the type of person I am. Just look at what happened, I ended up going on to play another 15 or so games and earned the captaincy. The club did right to stick to their guns and I’m delighted that they held firm and got rewarded for it. It has worked out well.”
Hughes now switches his attention to his first season as a fully-fledged professional with the U23 development squad at Leicester having to go full circle and prove himself all over again. It is a decision that he is relishing.
“I’ve always set myself goals whenever I’ve played football,” he said.
“When I was in the academy it was to earn a professional deal, then it was to make the first team bench at Chester, then it was to get into the team, then it was to stay there. That is how it has always been for me and I’ll be doing the same at Leicester. I’ll be in the development squad and having to prove my worth again, but I always back myself to do it.
“I’m back for pre-season in July and then they will have a look at me and make a decision on me. I don’t know whether they want me to go out on loan or what, but I’ll be knuckling down and getting ready for the challenge.
“It’s also the first time I’ll be living away from home. It’ll be weird being away from my family, they have been my biggest strength. They have always been there for me no matter what, always giving me advice and someone to talk to. We are always there for each other. My brother has special needs so we are a close knit family and it will be tough to leave him and my parents but I am aiming to do them proud. They were so pleased when I signed my deal and I want to go to Leicester and prove I can make it. I’ll work as hard as I can to get as far as I can. I’m excited for what lies ahead and I want to thank everyone who made it possible.”