Callum Hudson-Odoi has been cause for some debate and is a subject that has sparked another set of split opinions from the Chelsea fanbase. One side backs him to the hilt, and the other questions everything that he has done for Chelsea: his talent, and his loyalty to the club, and his attitude.
Konark attempts to take a look at what Hudson-Odoi has done for us this season, and what context needs to be applied before judging him, and whether he deserves all the criticism that is levelled at him in that light.
Chelsea’s enigmatic young winger has seen a lot at the age of just 19, from his quick rise to stardom from being a young boy at Cobham to being scouted by one of the best clubs in Europe to battling with career-threatening injuries, going through racist abuse, rape allegations and the coronavirus.
Hudson-Odoi’s potential had never been in doubt when he played for the academy, being a part of the youth setup since 2007, being part of the golden batch which have produced so many great footballers for us, and was promoted to the U-23s at just 16 years of age. He showed great individual skills and stood out as a fantastic young winger, with a great knack for scoring and assisting goals.
2018/19 season – Bursting onto the scene and controversies.
Callum burst on to the scene last season, after spinning the likes of Hector Bellerin around in a pre-season friendly, and was touted to be one of the best academy prospects that we’ve seen in recent years. With Willian and Pedro ageing and dropping poor performances last season, he came into the team as a breath of fresh air for the fans, delighting with his quick feet and his fantastic creative play. He dazzled in the Europa League, and gradually started making it into the starting XI in Premier League games towards the end of the season, and getting into the grove. European giants Bayern Munich tried to prize him away from Chelsea in the 2019 January transfer window, with multiple bids, and going public with their interest. It was also reported that he had handed in an official transfer request, however he did make the line-up the very next day and also scored in an FA cup win after which Maurizio Sarri confirmed that he would be staying with Chelsea for the rest of the season.
Hudson-Odoi was the subject of alleged racist abuse which was aimed at him in a Europa League clash against Dynamo Kiev, which can be severely off-putting for such a young player. However, this did not deter him, and when given his first league start against Brighton he assisted Giroud for the opening goal. The signs looked promising for him, and his future looked bright, amidst Bayern interest, the fans pressing their manager to play him, and his commitment to Chelsea still to be seen. Maurizio Sarri wanted to protect him, but he wanted game time, and the fans wanted him to play as well, causing him to maybe consider a move to Bayern, a club that many dream of playing for.
However, all this was completely blown out of the water when he got an injury to his Achilles tendon, which ruled him out for quite a long time, the rest of the season at least.
2019/20 – Contract extension and recovery.
In spite of his injury he was once again pursued by Bayern with a lower offer, and the speculation regarding his future was once again the topic of discussion, with many fans questioning his commitment to the cause for holding Chelsea “hostage” in such a situation, and taking advantage to demand a new bumper contract. After Frank Lampard became the new Chelsea head coach, he gave Callum the vote of confidence, who ultimately signed a long-term contract with Chelsea, one with very high wages for a footballer his age. Several fans were not happy that we caved into his demands, and accused him and his agent of being disloyal and of not respecting the club that he grew up with. In fact, this has still been a major factor why people question his “attitude” and his “lack of commitment”.
Post this, he recovered from the injury much earlier than was expected, and did a lot of work on and off the training round to get his match fitness back very quickly. Now, for an 18 year old to face such an injury, come back and hit the ground running was never going to be an easy task, which went as expected. It took time for him to start playing again, at first playing with the U21s and then making substitute appearances off the bench by September end. As expected, he was not as sharp as he would normally be, which was to be anticipated given the context, but – he still registered four assists and a goal in all competitions in the space of two months, even with most of his appearances still being cameos off the bench.
Further, he took another knock in training, and this hampered his starting prospects further, making more appearances off the bench, and struggled to get back into the side afterwards. His performances saw a gradual improvement though, with a good game on the Right Wing against Nottingham Forrest in the FA cup, going on to score his first league goal against Burnley in a 3-0 win when he started, and almost looked like he was getting sharper and better, playing dangerously against Arsenal, giving Bukayo Saka a tough time in our draw at Stamford Bridge.
However, after a few good performances came another setback, a hamstring injury that kept him out through February and March, resulting in him being injured until the break caused by the pandemic. During the break, he suffered even more issues, being tested positive for COVID-19, recovering from that, and then being falsely accused of rape, for which he was later cleared. He then suffered a small ankle injury in training which meant he wasn’t fit to start the next few games after the restart.
With Pulisic and Willian both in great form after the break, even after recovering from the injury, it looked like a tough task cut out for him to get a spot in the starting XI with so much on the line and no easy fixtures to come until the end of the season. Lampard give him very few minutes off the bench as well, with him coming on for hardly the last 10-15 minutes in the few games he played. Some even began to question his future at Chelsea, wondering if a loan would be appropriate for him at this point. In our penultimate game against Liverpool, he came on to make a huge impact, looking sharp and creating chances late on, and providing a great assist for one of our goals, but Lampard still preferred Mason Mount over him on the wing, even with Willian out on the important final matchday against Wolves, where he again made a small substitute cameo.
Is the criticism justified?
If we look at the numbers from this season, he has made 31 appearances in all competitions, with only 11 starts being handed to him, and playing just over a thousand minutes all season, in which he scored 3 goals and assisted 6 times taking his goal contributions to 9 for the season, which is not bad at all for the amount of minutes he has played. He has created 6 big chances, which is more than the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood.
Numbers aside, the kid has fantastic potential and is one of the best talents at his age in Europe. He still has a lot more to show than he has so far, but people already writing him off need to take into consideration the fact that he has gone through so much at just 19 years of age, and not go around comparing him to other 19 year olds, say for example, Jadon Sancho. We know the boy has potential, we know he’s had injuries, and we also know the whole context, so there’s no need to be overly worried. The way some of our fans talk about him, you’d think he’s some terrible footballer with a bad mentality and a careless attitude, for which, I’m sorry, but there is no evidence. We definitely need to bust some of these myths.
One argument that always comes up is about his poor attitude. Wait, which attitude? He recovered from a potentially career-ending injury and came back in record time, and has always worked really hard to get back on the pitch ever since. He’s gone through racism and abuse from other fans, and our own fans and kept his head up. No one can question that. I think all this stems from the fact that people have started harbouring some sort of prejudice against him since the contract situation. But again, if you’re an 18 year old talented footballer, you’re approached by a European giant, and you tell your club that, hey, I want some assurances, a long term contract with a high wage, and if your club thinks you’re talented enough to give you that deal, then they give it to him. Since when has looking out for your own future meant having a bad attitude? Since when is that called holding your club hostage? Also, I feel that the reason the club gave him that, was because it is an investment in a massively talented player, securing him for the future, even if it means giving him higher wages. Recently, he’s even been training individually when the team is being given a break from training.
What Hudson-Odoi can offer next season.
The only thing that he needs to do now is to start over next season, turn a page, get his head down and keep working hard, because we all know he’s an extremely talented player who keeps making fantastic contributions and shows flashes of brilliance even when he’s not having the best of times. And we, as fans, need to understand what has gone on with the lad, and not question him at every step of the way. I do not think he needs a loan move. He just needs some game time and a little backing, and with his sharpness improving and the confidence coming back, I’m sure he will get many more goal contributions than this season, and will play a much more important role in the side. The talent is there, the potential is there, he just needs some time, and if we can’t give that to one of the best youngsters that our academy has ever produced, then it will be our loss. Even if you take the amount of goal contributions he has, and the kind of creativity he has shown with the amount of minutes he has played this season, that much is enough to tell you that he’s done a good enough job. Even that much context is sufficient.
With Willian’s contract situation still remaining unsolved, if Willian moves out, Hudson-Odoi will have even more of an opportunity to stay here and make his mark next season. He will need to improve his composure, and also need to help out defensively. Admittedly, he is not yet the finished product, and requires polishing, but that can only be done if he gets to play. If Willian does leave, and nobody comes in, he will need to realise that he will have take over from the seniors and step up next season, because we will have only two out-and-out wingers if we don’t count Ziyech as a winger, and that will be Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic. Since we seem to be building a team with different kinds of players, with Ziyech being a creative winger/midfielder, Pulisic a more direct creator and goal-scorer, having Callum within the squad will provide us with a different dimension, a proper winger, who can have a lot of tangible output and put defenders on the back foot, with his skilful feet, crossing from the by-line and getting into the box, whether he plays on the left or right. If Willian does end up singing an extension, he’ll have his work further cut out to displace Willian from the side, because Lampard will pick him only on merit, and not because he asks for it. Hopefully, he can make good on his undoubted potential and stay clear of controversies and injuries.
I believe in him. Do you? Let us know your thoughts on Hudson-Odoi’s future in the comments!