The decisive moment came for Callum Hudson-Odoi at the Bay Arena, Leverkusen, on Tuesday evening, in the 87th minute, when he received the ball in his own half.
Atlético Madrid, led by Diego Simeone, were a stark and fierce opponent all night but, having conceded three minutes ago, are now a bit open for the first time.
Hudson-Odoi felt it. Playing as the number 10 jersey – he started the match wide – saw Mario Hermoso, a Simeone veteran and Spain international, approach. And he knew he had the speed to expose him. “I saw him coming and knew before that if I touched those around him, I would get past him,” the 21-year-old later said.
Callum Hudson-Odoi joined German club Bayer Leverkusen on loan from Chelsea this summer
The ball hit a quick stab around the Spaniard and Hudson-Odoi. He was making strides towards half of Atletico and then he saw substitute Jeremy Frimpong outside him. – I thought, he has fresher legs. Just give it to him and let him go! “
Frimpong played in Moussa Diaby, who was reaching the far post to score: 2-0. BayArena broke out. There were 25,000 people there on Tuesday night but this Germany, where the fans have prestige and have the power to create an atmosphere, felt like 50,000.
Bayer Leverkusen needed this. They had a very poor start to the season and they sat in second place in the Bundesliga, so beating one of the best teams in Europe was a potential turning point. And in these moments, Hudson-Odoi came here.
After 90 minutes, he was substituted and everyone praised him, as he put in a good performance and his association with Frimpong, who made the opening goal, was very encouraging. The fans stood behind the submariners seat and applauded until he recognized them. It was as if they wanted to make sure he felt welcome and appreciated.
The young man had fallen into the clicking order under Thomas Tuchel and sought more time to play
You can reassure them that he does. Substitute Hudson-Odoi, the man who broke Duncan Edwards’ record when he made his England debut at the age of 18 – the youngest player to do so in a competitive match – was not entirely attractive at Chelsea. At least, it would not have been under Thomas Tuchel.
How was Wednesday’s Champions League game against Red Bull Salzburg at Stamford Bridge for Hudson-Odoi?
If he was lucky, he would have secured a seat as a privileged spectator on the submarine seat. Then, after the game, as first-team players file through what’s known as the mixed zone, unused subs can be seen doing a late-night training session, running the shuttle under an assistant fitness coach.
Instead, Germany’s Hudson-Odoi was playing his part in a famous victory against top-tier opponents. Last Saturday he was at Hertha Berlin, under pressure to present a struggling team with a coach that needed a result. They got a 2-2 draw. Real football, you deserve 90 minutes of that, rather than peeking out from the bench.
“These are the games you want to play in,” he says. Nights like this are a great feeling: to know you’re starting, huge crowd, big atmosphere, against a big team like Atletico.
The former Chelsea youngster has always had one of their high hopes of getting out of the academy
He sat in a quiet corner of the bar of the hotel that had been his home since the hastily arranged loan move, before moving into an apartment last weekend. Some die-hard fans and seasoned CEOs are still drinking Weissbier as midnight approaches, but Hudson-Odoi sticks with the redemption soda. “I enjoyed it!” It is a summary of the evening.
There was a lot in the last year that you suspect he didn’t enjoy as much as he waited for his regular playing time. Super clubs like Chelsea find themselves in a dilemma: what to do with a superbly talented young player?
Manchester City managed it well with Phil Foden, but Jadon Sancho went to Borussia Dortmund rather than risk the underworld for being the glorified extra player in a star-studded squad. Both were Hudson-Odoi teammates when England won the Under-17 World Cup in 2017.
Chelsea have always used the loan system. When Mason Mount was eighteen he was in Vitesse Arnhem, and when he was nineteen he was in Derby County. Rhys James was in Wigan at the age of eighteen. Both will be part of Graham Potter’s starting line-up and Gareth Southgate’s World Cup plans.
But when Hudson-Odoi was 18, Bayern Munich made an offer of £20m for him. At 19, Bayern wanted him on loan with a buy-out condition of £70m. When he was 20, Dortmund wanted him on loan. On both occasions, two different coaches, Frank Lampard and Tuchel, said no, because he was too good to be left – despite his young age, it seems, to play constantly.
Hudson-Odoi lived in this limbo for a few years. There were good moments. He was on the bench to win the Champions League in 2021, but that was an indirect experience. He played in the European Super Cup and Club World Cup Finals, and provided an assist for Chelsea’s goal in Abu Dhabi. But rock bottom came early in the season, when Tuchel was not in the squad for the opening game at Everton.
Hudson-Odoi’s shadow in the Chelsea shirt is to win the 2021 Champions League in Porto
One of those difficult moments was when you look at yourself and say, “What am I doing wrong? Did I ever do anything wrong until I wasn’t on the team?” he says. I would never say anything bad about Thomas, he was a good guy and a good manager. [But] The first game of the season was disappointing. Any footballer who is not on the team will understand how frustrating it is.
Regular soccer gives you consistency and the more matches you play, the more consistent you become, the more your level starts to look.
“You feel fresher, you feel better, you feel… not that you are being treated fairly but that you have confidence in the manager to push and kick you. You don’t want to be on the bench and think, ‘Why don’t I play?’ And then it becomes weeks and weeks and the legs are Rusty when playing.The most important thing is consistent football.This is what I get here and it makes me feel better.
“Now, playing the games, the momentum kicks in and you feel fresh: a new country, a whole new experience. It’s definitely refreshing to know that I got a chance to play games throughout the week, have fun and smile!”
The winger has enjoyed success at Chelsea but is looking for more chances to start matches
The decision to come here came with the encouragement of his Chelsea team-mate Kai Havertz, who spent his early years at Leverkusen and where he remains a local champion.
Kai had nothing but great things to say. “I’ve developed really well here, they pushed me forward, they made me a better player, who I am today,” he said. He was urging me to come: ‘Go and develop yourself, go and be you, and be set free. We know what you can do. Just go and show it constantly.”
We used to repeat the line that the Premier League is the best league in the world, and forget that the Bundesliga is the best in attendance. And because fans are an integral part of the clubs’ social fabric, the atmosphere is always better.
Hudson-Odoi was surprised by the crowd of 40,000 fans at the famous Olympic Stadium in Hertha Berlin last weekend. “It was very intense,” he says. The crowds were crazy, and the ambiance very good. The stadium was huge.
Also of interest is the pitch that Todd Boehle, the new Chelsea owner, gave to Hudson-Odoi. When the loan deal was being negotiated, Tuchel was still a manager. He wasn’t eager to let him go, but Buhli met Hudson-Odoi and understood why he needed him.
Frank Lampard created abundant opportunities for Hudson-Odoi during his tenure as Chelsea manager
However, Buhle had one sticking point: there would be no requirement for Bayer Leverkusen to make the deal permanent. Hudson-Odoi is exactly the type of player Bohli wants to sponsor from Chelsea.
Luring the owner was a new experience. It’s not the kind of thing Roman Abramovich would ever do. “It’s definitely different,” he says. When a club tries to get a player [on loan]They always want to buy this option at the end of the season. Todd was saying, “Listen, we want you to come back here.”
You are still on the radar of being wanted by the club. The way he’s trying to set him up, there are a lot of young players he’s trying to buy over the next few years. It shows that he wants to integrate the players into the team and help them develop.
Last week’s comments from Boehly at a business conference provide further understanding. He checked the names of Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah, and mistakenly attributed their ascent to Chelsea’s academy. However, his view was broadly good: Chelsea had these players as youngsters and lost them because Jose Mourinho was more focused on keeping jobs in the short term than on long-term development.
As such, Chelsea have allowed two of the world’s greatest players to pass through their clutches. It seems Boehly doesn’t want to risk the same thing happening again. Despite all the strides Lampard made with James, Mount and Tammy Abraham, the link between the academy and the first team remained flawed.
He never appeared to click on Hudson-Odoi at Chelsea after the injury that kept him out of the game for so long.
Boyle was impressed by Neil Bath’s academy, but revealed that there were still unnecessary firewalls, with no data being shared with the first team. Lampard helped Abraham become an international but Tuchel didn’t imagine him and the club have spent £110m since trying to sign a striker. Mark Gui and Fikayo Tomori play for England now, but chose to leave Chelsea last summer to develop; This summer Chelsea spent more than £100m on new midfield halves as they let two decades run out.
In this context, Potter’s designation makes more sense. Chelsea consider him the man who built the bridge between the academy and the first team as a long-term manager.
And so Hudson-Odoi will continue his quest in Germany for the time being. He is also the beneficiary of an excellent European education system and the ubiquitous spread of the English language. “The whole team speaks English,” he says. “The banter is too strong!”
He said in his interview from Leverkusen that he would not say a bad word about the “good guy” Thomas Tuchel
New friends are made and old acquaintances will soon be replenished. In two weeks, he will be at Bayern Munich and will face his former Whitgift schoolmate, Jamal Musiala. The couple grew up together in South London at Chelsea Academy. When Dortmund comes, he can connect with Judd Bellingham, the former England Under-21 teammate.
“It’s good for young talent to come here, play games and try something new,” he says. “Sometimes you’re from London, and you want to stick with that. But it’s time to come and evolve, try something new and open up about it.
Hudson-Odoi is out of his comfort zone now properly. He couldn’t seem happier.