The net bulged and he was off!
Callum Hudson-Odoi was sprinting away, screaming in joy, sliding to his knees and taking in the euphoria of the first Premier League goal for his boyhood club. For any youngster this would be a special moment, but for Hudson-Odoi – netting against the Claret and Blue of Burnley would’ve felt like poetic justice.
It was in the first half, when Callum Hudson-Odoi attempted to bring down a ball from the air and use his ferocious pace to start another attack. But once the ball landed at his foot, he stopped, bounced on his standing leg awkwardly and collapsed to the floor in agony.
It was an extremely bizarre moment, one that wasn’t incurred by an opponents challenge, but purely down to a bad landing. The small section of Burnley’s travelling supporters cheered in mockery in a less than endearing fashion.
Despite attempting to carry on, it wouldn’t be long before the young winger would collapse once again, his game was over. Leaving the field assisted by medical staff, a pain-stricken face applauded off by his own support. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
This was April of last year and Chelsea’s frustrating 2-2 draw to Burnley would be of little impact to the wider picture, which was the harrowing sight of Hudson-Odoi leaving the stadium in crutches. The worst would be confirmed soon after that the starlet had ruptured his achilles tendon – his season was over and it would be a long road back.
That bad turn of fortune put Hudson-Odoi on a road to recovery which overtook his summer, which could have heralded a Europa League Final appearance or another call-up by Gareth Southgate to feature in England’s Nations League squad. Instead, he’d spend it at Cobham, rehabbing his injury in an attempt to get fit for Chelsea’s next campaign.
Through the indoor ball exercises, jogging and strength training to heal his tendon, it wouldn’t be ludicrous to consider the moment of his injury would’ve been playing in his mind – repeating, nagging at this psyche.
That burning motivation helped the winger return within 144 days to be back on the Stamford Bridge turf for the U23’s. Though this wasn’t a redemption, it would take him a little longer for a full return to first team action. Now under a new Head Coach in Frank Lampard who had radically changed the mindset over giving young players a chance, Hudson-Odoi would start and score against Grimsby in the League Cup.
His unrelenting fist pumping when netting the seventh in the Blues rout over the League Two side demonstrated the struggle he had been through during a summer of torment. The winger seemed to slot right back into place under Lampard during the club’s best period of the current season.
But soon – another struggle would arise.
The emergence of Christian Pulisic had forced Hudson-Odoi out of the starting eleven and following a League Cup defeat to Manchester United in October criticism filled social media, condemning his performance. A hefty contract signed in September reported as up to £140,000 a week in wages had raised eyebrows and would soon be used as an easy stick to beat the 19-year-old with.
Hudson-Odoi’s battle for regular first team minutes would continue and more questions would be posed.
Following the Boxing Day defeat to Southampton – where the winger would be handed his first Premier League start since mid-October – social media would be up in arms once more. The Athletic reported Hudson-Odoi had become aware of the negative noise and was seeking reassurance from his teammates.
Patience has been a key word uttered by Lampard about all of his young players and Hudson-Odoi is no exception.
“If we’re not patient and if we don’t stick with the players, we might end up in a situation like we were before where absolute top, world-class players in this moment were at Chelsea when they were 20,21 and managers didn’t stick with them so much then. I’m in a position where I’m going to stick with them.”
It was an impatient culture that cost Chelsea a world-class talent in Kevin De Bruyne and its a culture Lampard is hoping to change. Despite the words ringing about the Manchester City star, they could easily suit the doubts over Hudson-Odoi,
A big contract and big expectancy over potential has put a heavy weight on Hudson-Odoi’s shoulders, none of which have come from the club itself but more from online hyperbole, labelling him a “generational” talent. A wider discussion can be had over the healthiness of these extravagant, trendy buzzwords and what they do to expectations on young players under 20 years old.
After starting once more last Sunday, cutting inside and drilling a shot into the net helped set light to Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest. The mercurial winger was central to the Blues most dazzling moments, cutting inside once more in similar fashion and having his attempt saved, only for Ross Barkley to drill in the rebound. Despite being a naturally left-sided player, Hudson-Odoi’s talent looked most effective from the right – the same role he played under Maurizio Sarri – because no one was taking Eden Hazard’s place.
And so came the visit of Burnley, nine months later. A full calendar year previously Hudson-Odoi’s name was being chanted by the Matthew Harding Lower amid rumours of an imminent departure to Bayern Munich.
Hudson-Odoi would hand in a transfer request before the club took a strong stance and refused to let a prized asset leave prematurely.
In January 2020, Hudson-Odoi would start from the right – identical to April.
Despite not fully imprinting his mark on the afternoon during the first period, the Blues found themselves going into the interval 2-0 up, a position they had craved after recent home struggles. Though the performance still needed an extra touch, the finishing touch to send fans home with an extra spring in their step.
Chelsea were starting to switch through the gears and a floated ball from Cesar Azplicueta into the box found the right boot of Hudson-Odoi making an expertly timed run, evading even the clutches of V.A.R. The goal had been coming, but for Callum it had been far too long.
A wave of blue ascended to the corner flag, all embracing their teammate in a special moment. Hudson-Odoi took some time to take in the event, the magnitude of netting his maiden Premier League goal in the Royal Blue of Chelsea. The words of stadium announcer Lee Parker, booming as he confirmed No.20 had secured the third goal and a much treasured three points.
The winger didn’t look back from there and continued to torment Burnley’s shellshocked defenders, retreating, twisting, turning and panicking about seeing Hudson-Odoi with the ball at his feet charging towards them.
Where was I? Likely the question in Callum’s mind as he took the ball effortlessly out the air liked he attempted to do in April, but this time there would be no stoppage, just further enjoyment.
“This was the real Callum Hudson-Odoi today and what he can be.”
The powerful words of Frank Lampard in conclusion to Saturday’s victory over Burnley. For Hudson-Odoi this is only the beginning of his journey and hopefully the first of many league goals in blue, but as he goes home tonight and reflects there will likely be some pride over a bit of personal redemption on a day he will never forget.
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