As the last fit winger standing, Callum Hudson-Odoi was a shoo-in to start last night’s Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Bayern Munich. That it took yet another injury crisis to get him there is telling. It was his first start in 19 games for Chelsea, since the first day of February. And while it was his 33rd appearance of the season, it was also just his 13th start overall.
After all the drama of last season, playing, not playing, leaving, not leaving, signing, not signing, and the unfortunate Achilles injury, this season has been a step back. Or, to be most generous, not a step forward. A few starts early in the year and a six-match run in January aside, Hudson-Odoi had taken a firm backseat to the likes of Willian, Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount, and even Pedro at times.
It almost made one wonder what all the fuss was all about.
Hudson-Odoi himself has admitted that it’s not been a good season for him personally, even as Chelsea lit the fires of the Youth Revolution™ and began the transformation of the team from a cobbled-together collection of random talent, to one built methodically from the riches of our own (not just monetary) resources.
Speaking to ESPN ahead of the Bayern game, the 19-year-old was his own harshest critic.
“For me personally, I think it is not the season that I would have liked to have. I could have worked on so many aspects of my game to become a better player.
“I’m working hard every day and training hard every day but sometimes in a game, you want to score goals, assist goals, help the team as much possible, and I feel like this year I wasn’t doing enough of that.
“So I feel myself, next season, when it comes, I have to try and get more goals and more assists, help the team as much as possible and hit the goals I set myself.”
Achilles injuries are of course no joke, and while Hudson-Odoi’s was of a less severe variety than Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s, it affected the young man’s confidence and trust in his own body. He may not admit it, but it’s been evident in his play. At best, he’s been pressing too hard; at worst, he’s simply not been up to par.
While no player should be purely judged on goals alone, not even attacking player, just 1 in the Premier League (3 total) is not great (see also: Eden Hazard at Real Madrid this season).
“I’ve had a couple of chances where I know I should be hitting the target or scoring. To myself, I feel disappointed because I know I’m capable of scoring goals and capable of assisting goals so when I don’t do it, I feel frustrated because I know what I can do and what I can’t do.
“For me, it was more of a personal thing where, ‘Cal, you can do better, you’ve got to keep going, keep working hard, try and get the goals and assists and help the team as much as possible.’”
Saturday’s essentially dead rubber match against Bayern was billed as a chance for Callum to showcase his talents once again, and to his credit, he was one of Chelsea’s best performers on the night — though that’s not necessarily saying much. He did score a tremendous goal, which was unfortunately ruled out for offside by a trailing leg from Tammy Abraham, but it was at least a nice reminder of what the kid can do. Many had forgotten, judging by the ever-reactionary fanbase.
And Hudson-Odoi’s task will not get any easier next season. Willian and Pedro may be leaving, but Pulisic has emerged as a bona fide superstar (when healthy) and we have the likes Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner and maybe Kai Havertz incoming as well. The competition for minutes in attack will only increase and if Callum falls behind, he will have a hard time catching up — Lampard has certainly shown that he’s more than happy to keep going with a hot hand, sometimes to a fault.
Having grown up in the competitive environment at Chelsea, and armed with his long-term contract, Callum says he’s ready, which is a good if basic first step.
“We’re obviously trying to build a good team for the future, not just for now. Players that are coming in are top players and they’ve done really well at their previous clubs so hopefully they can do that here as well.
“It doesn’t really matter if you’ve been bought or you’re at the club already or whatever it is. You’ve always got to fight for your position and show the manager, your teammates, the fans why you should be playing every game, keep improving every day.”
-Callum Hudson-Odoi; source: ESPN
Chelsea are far from a finished product and the same goes for Callum. But if he can get back on track towards reaching the great heights we’ve predicted for him, Chelsea will surely follow right behind.