On Saturday, Callum Hudson-Odoi accomplished something only two other players have done in the last 20 or so years. He became the third Chelsea Academy player to go on to make 100 first-team appearances for Chelsea, joining Andreas Christensen, who reached that milestone last year, and Mason Mount, who reached it earlier this year. They’re the only three to have done so since John Terry did it in 2002.
But it’s not all gravy in Hudson-Odoi’s world as the youngster continues to battle for minutes and trying to raise his game to the levels and consistencies we are all expecting of him at this point. He may be very young still in absolute terms (under 21 still), and possibly still affected by the Achilles injury from a couple years ago, but he also has a few seasons under his belt now. The expectations and the challenges are not getting any smaller or easier.
“Callum has to overcome the gap between training and games. I see a stronger Callum every day in training and he needs to overcome this gap and show this kind of determination that he shows in training.
“If he gets minutes, it’s never a gift. Nobody gets gifts [...] He needs to deserve it.”
This has been the overriding theme of Hudson-Odoi’s 100 appearances, turning the theory into reality, practice into progress, promise into results. When the spotlight shines, he cannot hide.
Saturday’s performance was solid, and he even got to play a bit on the wings late on, rather than at just wing-back, before being replaced by Timo Werner for the final few minutes. Tuchel of course wants more.
“I know [wing-back] not his favourite position but I think he can play this position and serve the team when it’s necessary. Today it was necessary and still he can do better, still he can be more aggressive, still he needs to push himself absolutely to the limits. This is what he does in training and, as I said, he needs to overcome this gap to fight for his place in the squad.
“This is life at Chelsea.”
There’s of course an idea floating out there that maybe what Callum truly needs first is to taste life at another club, to help him make this jump. Borussia Dortmund even made a late play for him in the summer, but as Tuchel explains, they were far too late to make anything happen at the time.
“We have spoken. It was a very easy decision for me to make on the last day of the transfer period. We cannot let a player who is in the 18/19 man squad leave. He is able to play as a right wing-back, a left wing-back in the two ten positions. He knows the group, we know him very well. There was no chance to say yes on the last day.
“For him personally, it may have been a good opportunity but for us and our targets that we want to achieve, it was simply impossible. It was an easy one for me actually.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London
Armed with a long-term contract and a long, long career ahead of him yet, it may be overly dramatic to call this a make-or-break season for Hudson-Odoi, but we’re all ready for his star turn.