An outpouring of emotion swept through social media when several prominent news sources claimed that Chelsea’s 18-year-old starlet Callum Hudson-Odoi had handed in a transfer request to the club. It came mere hours before a FA Cup tie at home to Sheffield Wednesday, which Hudson-Odoi would start and score in, as the Blues strolled to a 3-0 victory.
The opinions on the situation are as diverse as player-branded Twitter names. Some feel that any player who hands in a transfer request must be sold and is no longer fit to wear their club’s colours. Some feel that given the player’s age, he is foolish and arrogant to demand more playing time. Whilst another camp condemn the club’s manager and hierarchy for failing to utilize a burgeoning talent.
I fall into a pretty conflicted middle.
Maurizio Sarri, like any Chelsea manager, is under IMMENSE pressure to get results. Without getting myself into any legal confrontations, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to assume the line – “win trophies” was somewhere in his multi-paged, perfectly formatted contract. With this pressure, Sarri has a squad of accomplished, world-class talent who expect to play. Whatever fans feel about this, playing proven players seems like a no-brainer. The risk Sarri faces in trusting developing players to get him instant results could cost him points, trophies and eventually – his job.
Writing and observing about the reaction to Chelsea’s defeats and low points this season have put into stark contrast the extraordinary level of scrutiny Sarri is under, even six months into a job. The harsh criticisms, although several fair, only leave one to ponder how the same fanbase would react if the Italian flipped the table, started playing more youngsters, but results dipped further.
There are two key factors that oppose these theories. Hudson-Odoi has already showcased in brief glimpses, how good of a talent he is. The tired quote “if you are good enough, you’re old enough” rings true with the unpredictable winger who currently sits on the fringes of Chelsea’s starting eleven.
Added to that the immense support the Stamford Bridge faithful have paid the homegrown talent whenever he has taken to the field. Even before the transfer request, with bids tabled by Bayern Munich and rejected by Chelsea, Hudson-Odoi got loud chants led from the Matthew Harding Lower, stating simply “we want you to stay”.
However, the fate of Hudson-Odoi is one that cannot be looked upon in isolation. This is an issue that runs deeper, a tale told far too many times. Chelsea’s groundhog day is seeing talented youth prospects leave swiftly in search of a brighter future and minutes on the pitch.
Scott Sinclair, Josh McEachran, Nathan Ake, Dominic Solanke – I’m sure you can name more. Now a point can be made that Hudson-Odoi has a higher ceiling than these list of previous hopefuls, however its impossible to deny a structural problem that lies deep within the club, which has created a locked door in the way for young talent.
With the emergence of Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund, Reiss Nelson leaving Arsenal for Hoffenheim, a new pathway has emerged for disgruntled and underutilized young English talent. Both Hudson-Odoi and Bayern have probably spotted this new trend and looked at an opportunity that can help both parties.
Hudson-Odoi’s dream is probably to play for his boyhood club, in front of an adoring crowd. However, you’d be a fool to claim the odds of that becoming a reality based off recent history are on the winger’s side. Chelsea can’t afford to let another bright talent leave without being given any glimpse of a proper opportunity and will rue the day if he goes on to fulfill his early potential.
Added to the fact Chelsea’s main wingers in Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro are 28, 30 and 31 respectively in age, a fresh reboot will soon be needed. The acquisition of Christian Pulisic will be one of them, but Hudson-Odoi can easily be apart of that and find himself within a starting eleven by August IF he is given hope that sticking in west London will prove the best path for his career.
In terms of culture, fans need to decide what they want. Many times I’ve heard simultaneous cries for young talent to be blooded over older, more maligned players, whilst also barking for the next big marquee signing. You simply cannot have it both ways, and if Chelsea are to change philosophy, the big stars won’t be as frequent signing on the dotted line, replaced by a vote of confidence in the club’s exceptional academy.
Until a manager at the club is given time to make mistakes, allow young players also to make mistakes and fans to be sympathetic to the natural growing pains that come with young players, then this cycle will continue and rear its ugly head soon enough and I’ll be back here writing the same article again and again….and again.
Young players like Hudson-Odoi will be forced to swap their boyhood dream of wearing the blue of Chelsea, for the plain realism that a true future must lie elsewhere, or they will fall into the loan void that has seen so many youngsters fall by the wayside.