Modern football has inundated us with an abundance of exposure to the game’s rising stars. Amidst a sea of YouTube highlights and Twitter analysis threads, any player under the age of 23 can be packaged up and passed off as Europe’s next big thing.
Yet there are always some players who stand out as genuine talents, who can impress on the basis of their collective qualities as a player rather than a selected highlight reel. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi certainly seems to be one such player.
Hudson-Odoi’s playing style is almost nostalgic, reminiscent of the kind of players that we saw back in the 90s. He is no stranger to dropping deep to forage for the ball before racing forwards to whip in crosses like the archetypal British winger in a traditional 4-4-2. That style of wide player is a dying breed in the modern game, though it can still be effective if the player is good enough, and Hudson-Odoi certainly is.
His 11.24 progressive carries – carries that move the ball five yards or more towards the opposition goal – per 90 minutes are only rivalled by the likes of Neymar and Messi.
He also delivers the ball with purpose, rarely floating it into the area but instead whipping it with pace in order for it to be easier to attack.
But what makes Hudson-Odoi so exciting is that he’s more than a traditional style winger.
There are nuances to his game that set him apart from other players in his position. For instance, unless we’re discussing a very specific type of wide player — like Hakim Ziyech or Juan Mata for instance — we rarely talk about a winger’s passing. Yet the Chelsea man is equally capable of producing sweeping long, raking diagonals from wide areas as he is to playing short, quick one-twos with his teammates.
While most modern wingers would likely be sorted into two categories; those who hug the touchline and those who cut inside – Hudson-Odoi is a player that can do both.
His aforementioned crossing and dribbling mean he’s comfortable holding the width and isolating his fullback one on one. At the same time, his acceleration and ability to combine with swift passing sequences mean he can move into more congested areas as well.
Any player with this range of abilities would be considered an exciting prospect, but Hudson-Odoi also has a presence about him on the pitch.
There’s a certain flow to Hudson-Odoi’s game in which every decision seems to be made in exactly the right way at exactly the right moment. That doesn’t just mean he makes good decisions, as invaluable a quality as that it is, it gives him an air of authority, a sense that he is always in control of whatever situation he is in on the pitch.
That’s the sort of intangible quality that is routinely underappreciated, but it can add another dimension to a player’s performance level.
Since Tomas Tuchel’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, Hudson-Odoi has found himself operating as a wingback, though his future undoubtedly lies as a winger. He’ll need to add more of a goal-scoring element to his game by making more runs beyond the last line of defence, but that aside, his game is already remarkably complete.
If he can continue to develop the range of attributes he already possesses and add further elements to it, Callum Hudson-Odoi could genuinely be among the generational talents of European football.