It feels like a lot has happened in the nascent career of Callum Hudson-Odoi.
A Chelsea academy product, ball boy Hudson-Odoi was pictured embracing Samuel Eto’o after the Cameroonian’s goal against Manchester United in January 2014. He became a two-time FA Youth Cup winner and an Under-18 Premier League winner with Chelsea and brought home the Under-17 World Cup with England.
In the two years since his first team debut, Hudson-Odoi has been targeted by Bayern Munich, handed in a transfer request to force through the move, reneged and signed a new £180,000-a-week contract, suffered and recovered from an Achilles tendon injury and made his England debut.
When Maurizio Sarri refused to play him, Chelsea fans protested. When he has played, he’s copped criticism from those same supporters. That season saw him fall victim to racial abuse during an away match at Dynamo Kiev.
Now 19 years and three months old, Hudson-Odoi has already seen more drama than most players twice his age experience throughout their entire career.
The winger’s experience embodies that of the modern Premier League academy star – hyped yet underused, capped by his country yet inconsistent at club level.
Yet despite the media attention his fledgling career has garnered, it’s worth reminding ourselves just how little professional club football Hudson-Odoi has actually played.
His start against Leicester earlier this month was just his 11th in the Premier League. His first league goal for Chelsea didn’t come until last month when he scored the opener in a 3-0 win over Burnley.
Remarkably Hudson-Odoi’s first international cap preceded his first league start for Chelsea, when he became the youngest-ever England player to make his debut in a competitive match in March’s Euro 2020 qualifier against the Czech Republic.
Understandably given his age, Hudson-Odoi has only offered tantalising glimpses of his talent. Two assists and a goal in FA Cup matches against Nottingham Forest, four straight assists in games between September and October, the cross for Willian to score Chelsea’s winner at Lille.
But those glimpses have been enough. Enough for Chelsea fans’ feverish clamour for his increased involvement, enough to convince Bayern to offer £40million for an 18-year-old and enough for his manager to state decisively that “he will be a world-class player”.
Through a combination of injury and Sarri’s stubbornness, it’s been until February 2020 – two years after his Chelsea debut – that Hudson-Odoi has been afforded a run in the team.
He has featured in all of Frank Lampard’s last six team selections and completed the full 90 minutes in five of those. His last full game for Chelsea before that was back in October.
It’s only now with a run in the side that Hudson-Odoi is developing a distinct style of play. In recent appearances he’s performed like a traditional winger, staying out wide and looking to cross into the box. The expectation is that he will begin to make more runs into the box himself.
Typically for a youngster breaking through, Hudson-Odoi’s performances have been inconsistent. He was heavily criticised for his display in the 2-0 home defeat to Southampton on Boxing Day when he gave the ball away for Saints’ opener and connected with just one of his four crosses.
In the following match he came off the bench and crossed for Cesar Azpilicueta to score against Arsenal. But after the Gunners drew level, Hudson-Odoi blazed wildly over from a similar crossing position. His next start saw him produce a man-of-the-match display against Forest.
Despite limited outings, Hudson-Odoi has as many assists in all competitions as any Chelsea player with five. He ranks fourth among Chelsea’s squad in completed dribbles and chances created.
Chelsea are short of wingers. Star man Eden Hazard has long since gone for Real Madrid and Pedro and Willian are both out of contract in June. It’s why they’ve been moved to pay Ajax £38m for Hakim Ziyech’s arrival this summer.
Chelsea’s need for Hudson-Odoi to produce right away has become more acute given Christian Pulisic’s recent injury. The American has been out since mid-January with a torn abductor muscle and is struggling for fitness ahead of the Bayern clash. The pressure is building on the 19-year-old’s shoulders.
While Hudson-Odoi was working his way back to full fitness, he’s been overtaken by several his fellow English academy graduates. Tammy Abraham, Reece James, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have all developed into first-team regulars amid Chelsea’s transfer ban.
Yet it’s worth remembering Hudson-Odoi is the youngest of the crop; one year younger than James, two years younger than Mount and three years younger than Abraham and Tomori.
Some smart combination play between James and Hudson-Odoi in the Burnley and Forest fixtures offered Chelsea fans a glimpse of what could be the right flank of their future.
For all the excitement Hudson-Odoi is yet to produce a marquee performance in a Chelsea shirt, particularly in a game of real consequence. The first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash with Bayern feels like the perfect opportunity.
Hudson-Odoi admitted last month that the Bayern move was “on my mind” while he warming the Chelsea substitutes’ bench under Sarri last season. Handed a lifeline by one of Europe’s biggest clubs and assured of opportunities at the Allianz, it’s easy to see why Hudson-Odoi handed in the transfer request.
The Chelsea star is believed to have agreed personal terms with the German champions before a debate over valuation scuppered the deal. Nine months later he was signing a five-year extension to remain at Chelsea, convinced to stay following a conversation with incoming coach Lampard.
Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has since revealed that Hudson-Odoi was the “only player they wanted” during the January 2019 transfer window. Even with the recent wave of English youngsters departing for the Bundesliga, a £40m bid represented a huge vote of confidence from the Germans.
The recent progress made by wingers at Bayern won’t have gone unnoticed to Hudson-Odoi. Kingsley Coman has transformed into a star in Germany since leaving first Juventus and then Paris Saint-Germain.
Serge Gnabry failed to make the grade at Arsenal yet scored four goals in a sensational return to north London against Tottenham this season. In the crucial Bundesliga match with RB Leipzig, Bayern deployed Coman, Gnabry and 19-year-old Alphonso Davies.
Hudson-Odoi will take solace from his recent spate of starts at Stamford Bridge as he prepares for the biggest match of his career against last year’s potential suitors.
The move to Bayern move now dead in the water, he must now prove his worth to his current employers.