Callum Hudson-Odoi was hardly a name on the lips of wider football community last summer. As transfer targets were identified by clubs like Chelsea, few would have paid much attention to yet another youngster at Stamford Bridge looking to make his big break.
Six months later and Hudson-Odoi could be one of the stories of this transfer window. Publicly pursued by Bayern Munich, he is reportedly favouring a move to the Bundesliga giants. Having featured just eight times for Chelsea this season, a proposed £35 million move to Bayern would be huge, not just for the youngster, but also for wider prospects of England’s best young talent.
If Hudson-odoi swaps England for Germany, he would be following a path lead by a growing number of young stars. Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson could be perfect examples for him to follow.
Both have thrown caution to the wind and turned their backs on the dizzying lights of the Premier League, opting for the tamer waters of the Bundesliga. While Nelson, who is on loan from Arsenal at Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim, has impressed, it is Sancho who’s really made the headlines.
Sancho started out as something as a minor curiosity for the hipsters. A youngster who had abandoned Manchester City’s youth set up, for German giants Borussia Dortmund. After a successful time with England’s youth teams, including a World Cup win for the Under-17s, the winger has kicked on this season, forcing his way in to the first XI at Dortmund and earning rave reviews for a refined attacking style and electric pace.
His exploits caught the eye of Gareth Southgate who rewarded Sancho with three senior caps in 2018, as did his club who offered a new contract. While it’s true that the stellar success of the former Man City player is by no means a blueprint, it is an example that other youngsters are keen to follow. Some will have played with the Dortmund attacker in England’s youth teams and may well be encouraged to be bold and make the move away from the Premier League themselves.
There are other examples too, of youngsters doing well in the German top flight. Everton’s Ademola Lookman and West Ham’s Reece Oxford also benefited from some priceless regular game time last season. A focus on bringing through young talent and a country with a reputation for innovation and new training methods is a wonderful place for talent to flourish and improve.
With a vast number of Premier League clubs focused on the here and now, wanting already developed recruits, there is not the time afforded to bringing youth through the ranks. Newcastle, West Brom, Swansea and Stoke, offered only a combined 3,054 minutes to academy products last season, roughly translating as just over eight games per club. With the financial hardship of relegation a real spectre for a significant number of Premier League clubs, youngsters just don’t get a look in. They may then, begin to look elsewhere to clubs who do want them, even if it’s abroad and away from home.
18-year-old Hudson-Odoi is at a vital stage in his development. While he has enjoyed more frequent minutes in Chelsea’s first team, even scoring his first senior goal this season, he needs games and plenty of them if he’s to hit the heights that many hope he can.
The odd cameo in front of half empty stadia in the Carabao Cup or Europa League seem almost token gestures rather than declarations of faith in the youngster’s abilities.
Bayern Munich sporting director and club legend Hasan Salihamidzic spoke animatedly to the Associated Press about his club’s pursuit of Hudson-Odoi:
“He has the qualities that fit our team. He can dribble and drive towards goal. He has lots of potential.”
Warms words indeed and ones which will have found their way back to the Chelsea youngster as he weighs up his next career step. To hear a colossal club speak so highly of your talents and move so keenly to finalise the transfer, it’s bound to have a galvanizing effect.
Hudson-Odoi could do well to look at the frustrations the likes of fellow Chelsea youth products Dominic Solanke and Lewis Baker have endured after they have been left on the periphery of big clubs. If the youngster decided his prospects are better in a league that has recent pedigree for bringing through top young talent, it could well be a watershed moment for academy stars. An exodus may be too dramatic, but a ground shift towards foreign leagues and coaching may well be on the cards for England’s best young talent.