Callum Hudson-Odoi has six (6) appearances totaling over 300 minutes of first-team football through the first half of the season (including the Community Shield), and while that’s certainly not the worst record (not by a long shot) for a highly promising Academy prospect in modern Chelsea history, it still may not be enough to convince the 18-year-old to stay and sign a new long-term contract. With promises of minutes and stardom at Bayern Munich (reasonable or not) playing in his ear, it’s undoubtedly a tough sell from the Blues even if we do have the advantage of him being a lifelong Chelsea fan.
As ever, it’s a situation that has no easy solutions. If it did, we would not be here in the first place. If the path was as easy as taking a young player and giving him all the minutes he could handle physically, mentally, and emotionally, we would not be endlessly debating (the lack of) opportunities and trust.
Trust, more than anything, is what it all seems to boil down to. Trust from the head coach in the player. Trust from the club in the head coach. Trust from the player in the club. Trust regarding the availability of opportunities. Trust in terms of giving opportunities. Trust in terms of players being allowed to make mistakes. Trust in terms of coaches being allowed to drop points and lose games.
Trust in the fans being able to understand the situation, even if they might disagree with how matters are being handled.
For Sarri, this equation is weighted in favor of not-Hudson-Odoi at the moment. The coach’s primary remit remains to win games and trophies, just like it has been for the past two-plus decades, even before the arrival of Roman Abramovich.
“I don’t know [if the players are impatient]. Also the fans sometimes, also the club sometimes, and so I am in the middle because I have to win.
“I can understand that a fan loves young players from the Academy, I can understand very well. But in the long run I have to win matches and the fans I think want me to win matches, and also the club I think.”
For Sarri, the 18-year-old Hudson-Odoi is not quite ready for prime time yet, even if he’s sure to get there, and probably soon, too. Just needs a bit of patience, and a bit of improvement — sentiments echoed by former youth coach Jody Morris in the summer, and sentiments that Sarri also trotted out for the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who’s worked his tail off this season to convince even Sarri of his qualities.
“I think that he is a very good player, with the potential for becoming a great player and now he has to improve. With the ball, he is a very good player. He has to improve I think in movement without the ball. As a winger, he has to improve in the defensive phase, but he has the potential to become a very important player, not only for the English football I think but for European football.”
Sarri clearly hears the constant baying for youth, but he actually thinks the situation at Chelsea is better than at most top clubs these days. Your mileage may vary of course.
“In Europe, there are few players, 18-year-old players, with matches at this level. I think Hudson-Odoi in this season played four official matches in Europe, so I think that he has been lucky. Although he is not lucky, he is good.
“It’s not easy at this level to take the young players from the Academy and not only here, everywhere in Europe. Sometimes there are one or two young players in Barcelona, from the academy, sometimes one or two Real Madrid.
“But zero in Juventus, zero in Paris Saint-Germain. It’s not easy and I think that we are lucky because we have (Ethan) Ampadu, we have (Andreas) Christensen and we have Hudson-Odoi, so we are lucky. We are either really very lucky, or the Academy is very good.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Telegraph
The Academy is indeed very good, one of the very best in the world in fact. That will continue to be the case regardless of the ease and length of the pathway from it to the Chelsea first-team. It would certainly behoove us to figure out how to shorten it and clear out whatever obstacles may exist — assuming that’s possible in the current environment and circumstances generated by the club’s needs and ambitions.
I don’t have the actual answer, assuming one exists, and I’m not sure anyone does. My job is not on the line, nor is my career, nor is my livelihood. The ideal plan, for me, would be to use the transfer market to sign only the best players we can (i.e. the Hazards, the Oscars, the Kantés, etc.) and fill the rest of the squad from the Academy (i.e. not the Zappacostas, the Drinkwaters, the Djilobodjis). But this has to be a coherent vision from the top down, and it needs buy-off from management, coaching, and the fans as well. The players themselves need a certain level of understanding and patience as well (as Dom Solanke, who’s about to join Crystal Palace on loan, just might attest to).
I’m not sure all of that (any of that?) is actually possible, though we probably should try harder than we are now. Sarri, like Conte and Mourinho before him, has passed up obvious opportunities to use the youth, even if he has done better than his immediate predecessors and has placed his faith in the kids over the likes of Drinkwater and Moses already, for example.
Even if that were to happen, it might come too late for Hudson-Odoi’s Chelsea prospects. But in that case, we absolutely must insist on a buyback clause.