Chelsea wonderkid Callum Hudson-Odoi could be Sarri’s secret weapon
‘Wonderkid’ is a word banded about all too often, but this youngster may just be living up to the tag as his skills light up pre-season for the Blues.
It doesn’t take an expert eye to notice that Callum Hudson-Odoi has the x-factor needed to make it to the top.
The 17-year-old has started Chelsea’s first three pre-season games, against Perth Glory, Inter and Arsenal, meaning new manager Maurizio Sarri is already backing up the club’s promise of first-team football for a youth academy product that has been offered a lucrative five-year contract to remain at Stamford Bridge.
However, Goal understands that assistant coach Gianfranco Zola had also been personally championing Hudson-Odoi’s promotion to the senior squad for the coming campaign anyway, with the Blues legend having been greatly impressed by what he had previously seen from a player who made his debut under previous boss Antonio Conte last season.
Hudson-Odoi made his professional bow against Newcastle United in the FA Cup in January, while Chelsea were already 3-0 up, but Conte was soon calling on the youngster in the Premier League when chasing the game against Bournemouth later that same month.
Hudson-Odoi appeared twice more before the end of the 2017-18 campaign to bring his tally of appearances to four but it was his form at youth level that really alerted the rest of Europe to his talents.
Real Madrid, Barcelona, Villarreal, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Monaco were all keen on signing a player who scored 21 goals in 30 games across various age groups last season.
With Hudson-Odoi as their principal attacking outlet, Chelsea won an unprecedented quadruple at youth level last term, while also reaching the UEFA Youth League final.
Hudson-Odoi’s success also extended to the international level, where he played a pivotal role in England’s Under-17 World Cup win in India last October, which is when the continental interest in his services really began to take hold.
It remains to be seen whether Hudson-Odoi will be integrated into the Chelsea first team this season, as he is competing with the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian for a starting spot, but if he were to get any game time at all, it would significantly boost the club’s hopes of holding on to one of the most in-demand youngsters in world football.
Sarri is not making any promises but when asked about performances of Hudson-Odoi and fellow 17-year-old Ethan Ampadu in Saturday’s International Champions Cup clash with Inter, the former Napoli boss was fulsome in his praise of the prodigiously gifted pair.
“I don’t know if they will play this season in the Premier League,” the Italian admitted, “but I know that these names will be very famous in the next years.”
Hudson-Odoi has a lot to learn, as former Under-18s manager Jody Morris said after the FA Youth Cup final triumph, but the teenager has already stated that he is enjoying Sarri’s attacking style of football.
“The fact the manager is giving me the opportunity to play is really boosting my confidence so I just want to keep getting on the ball, pressing and working hard,” he enthused.
“The more games I play, hopefully the more I will be able to impress him as well. Getting the opportunities is obviously a good thing so I just need to keep going.
“I’ve definitely liked working under Maurizio. The way he plays suits the way I play because I like to get on the ball a lot, go forward and keep attacking, I either stay in the pockets or stay wide.
“With the way the team are playing, being on the left wing is very good because you get to drive at the defenders one against one or cut inside and combine.
“You just play with a free mind and play how you can play, but also off the ball we press to try and win the ball high up the pitch, so we defend from the halfway line and obviously attack from there. I like playing under him.”
Hudson-Odoi is the son of former Hearts of Oak midfielder Bismark Odoi, while his older brother Bradley Hudson-Odoi plies his trade at non-league level.
This might explain why the youngster has remained so level-headed in spite of all of his early success, and why the latest star to come out of the Chelsea academy could go all the way to top.