It was a moment we had been waiting for since the start of the season. On Wednesday night, as the teams made their way onto the pitch at Stamford Bridge for a Premier League match, three — count ‘em, one, two, three — three Chelsea Academy graduates were among the eleven in Blue, two of whom had been at the club since before age 8, the other who had joined in his mid-teens.
It was truly “Academy Day”, a term that’s been used only sarcastically ever since José Mourinho invented it in late 2014 and then gave a young Loftus-Cheek 10 minutes off the bench against Sporting Lisbon in a meaningless Champions League group stage match. Last night was a meaningful game for both teams, Chelsea looking to stay in the hunt for the top four and Brighton looking to stay clear of relegation.
All three players had featured extensively in Chelsea’s cup and Europa League campaigns this season, but had only made four (4) Premier League starts combined (Christensen had 3 of those) this season before last night nearly doubled that total. It was of course young Callum Hudson-Odoi’s long-awaited full debut in the league.
Afterwards, everyone agreed that it was a momentous occasion, not just for the result and the performance, but for the idea of “the youth” at Chelsea, validating the hard work that goes on behind the scenes from all involved in the Academy. Sure, it was just 90 minutes against one of the worse Premier League sides. But it was also so much more, and so much more symbolic than that.
At least one would hope.
“I think it’s important Callum and Ruben and Christensen - he isn’t English, but he’s the same as he’s an academy graduate - it’s important for the club but also for the fans.”
-Maurizio Sarri; source: Evening Standard
For the two boys involved who joined the club before they were old enough to sit in the front seat of a car, it was especially meaningful. They were not technically teammates in the Academy (Loftus-Cheek is nearly five years older than Hudson-Odoi), but they are lumped together in this narrative, so they might as well roll with it.
“It is what we have worked hard for all our lives, to come through the Academy with years of hard work to get the chance to start a Premier League game. It is good for the Academy and for us personally.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Sky via Chelsea FC
Loftus-Cheek collected an assist and scored a goal (his second in just as many games) while Hudson-Odoi tormented his markers all game long (especially when 1-v-1) and created Chelsea’s opener with a great low cross. As happy as he was with all that, CHO kept it professional in the post-match interview of course. In many ways, kids these days are ridiculously mature.
“[Sarri] told me before the game to do what I normally do and express myself and be the best you can be. I feel comfortable and when you go through the game you feel more and more confident to get the ball and hopefully I did well.
“[For the goal], Eden switched the ball out to me and I had space. I thought to myself it is a one v one and I love one v ones, so as soon as I got the ball I thought just get at him and try and get the ball in as soon as possible, because I saw Olly make the run so as soon as I got the ball, I played it to the front post.
“I am very happy for the win, we all did well, we worked very hard from the start and the mentality from everyone was very good.”
-Callum Hudson-Odoi; source: Sky via Chelsea FC
The interviewer tried to draw Callum into saying something headline-worthy, but the kid deflected the question about convincing the head coach about more playing time with veteran ease.
“I can’t say if I should start or shouldn’t start. Just gotta keep working hard in training and hopefully more opportunities will come, including starts. Just gotta keep going.”
-Callum Hudson-Odoi; source: Sky
Let us hope so, indeed.