Could Chelsea moves for Sterling and Raphinha be a good sign for Hudson-Odoi?

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The upcoming pre-season was always going to be an important one for Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Through no fault of his own, the 2021-22 season ended in an underwhelming fashion for him. Injury restricted the England international to making just nine appearances after the turn of the year, the last of which was at Luton in the FA Cup in March.

When you’re trying to cement a first-team place in one of the most competitive squads in the Premier League, any length of absence is hardly ideal but it is especially difficult in the case of someone like Hudson-Odoi, who has been battling with other attacking players to get first-team minutes for Chelsea since being promoted from the academy in 2018.

However, it is only a matter of time before he has even more competition to worry about.

Chelsea are expected to complete a deal to sign Raheem Sterling of Manchester City soon and are also optimistic about buying Raphinha from Leeds United. They have also been keen on Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele, who is available as a free agent but would cost a fortune in wages.

You could argue, on the one hand, that interest in those players actually offers Hudson-Odoi some cause for encouragement.

By going after wide players, it suggests coach Thomas Tuchel is considering a change in formation — one which will better suit the 21-year-old’s style of play. The obvious negative is Chelsea are not going to spend in excess of £100 million on fees and wages to leave new arrivals on the bench, and that would mean Hudson-Odoi being used in more of a back-up role.

It is too early to make any decisions about his future, but he is one of nine squad players who have reached that awkward stage for any club of having just two years left on their contracts. This is the juncture when both the team and the individual start to consider whether they want an extension or not.

Significantly, Chelsea’s desire to sign Sterling, Raphinha and/or Dembele has also sent out a message to other clubs about Hudson-Odoi’s potential availability. The Athletic understands some major clubs, in the Premier League and abroad, are already making inquiries.

While Hudson-Odoi has not come close to fulfilling his potential since rejecting Bayern Munich in 2019, he has still made 126 appearances for Chelsea before his 22nd birthday. That isn’t too bad a record for an academy product.

But this is the period where he really needs to be playing on a more regular basis to fully develop into the player he can be. Being a bit-part figure isn’t beneficial for anybody.

It is thought that Tuchel does rate Hudson-Odoi highly and conversations have taken place about the situation between his representatives and Chelsea’s new co-owner Todd Boehly recently, although it was also part of a getting-to-know-you exercise.

There is a section of the Chelsea fanbase who remains unconvinced by Hudson-Odoi, though. His progress has not been helped by the serious achilles injury he suffered three years ago and perhaps it has been underestimated just how serious a setback that was.

But while there is certainly room for improvement as far as Hudson-Odoi is concerned, it should not be forgotten Chelsea’s best run of form last season coincided with him starting on a regular basis in his favored position on the left of their attack.

There have been too many occasions where Tuchel has picked him at wing-back or on the right flank.

In the period between October and November, though, Hudson-Odoi featured in 10 of Chelsea’s 11 matches and was in the first XI for nine of those, predominantly on the left. They won eight of the 10 games Hudson-Odoi played in, drawing the other two. He scored twice and contributed a couple of assists, with his goals coming in impressive wins over Norwich and Juventus (7-0 and 4-0 triumphs respectively).

Even though his contribution in the second half of the season tailed off due to fitness issues, there were still some telling moments, most memorably his sublime cross for Romelu Lukaku to score against Palmeiras in February’s Club World Cup final. That was the second major final Tuchel started him in — he also played in the Super Cup victory over Villarreal back in August.

But Tuchel — quite rightly, given the qualities of Manchester City and Liverpool — is a hard man to please. Even when Hudson-Odoi was showing signs of consistency, the Chelsea coach made it clear he was yet to be fully convinced by what he was seeing.

Speaking about Hudson-Odoi in October, he said: “Is there a turning point? OK, he needs to prove it. He needs to play the next 250 games on the highest level and crack that was the turning point — but is it a turning point if he does a brilliant match tomorrow? No.

“It’s only a turning point if he makes it a turning point and only if he does not only do one good match, one good half, 60 good minutes, but if he does it consistently. It’s as easy as that with every player.

“Once you do this, you will have more minutes. Once you have more minutes, you will maybe look back and say, ‘That was a turning point’.

“You need to fight for it. You need to deserve it. It must be a perfect fit in a perfect moment. Sometimes you need a bit of luck but, in the end, the only person who can answer that question is Callum, and we will support him.”

A measure of Hudson-Odoi’s determination to impress in pre-season — the club departs for a three-match tour of the United States on July 9 — is reflected in the fact that he has barely stopped since the last season ended on May 22. He only took a week off, and was still working on his fitness during that.

Hudson-Odoi has a personal trainer — anyone who follows him on Instagram can see posts of strenuous workouts involving a lot of weights — but it is believed he has also been going to the club’s training ground at Cobham for the past four or five weeks to do drills with coaches there, as well as joining in with the under-23s when they reported back last week.

It has all had the desired effect. The injury which brought a premature end to last season is a thing of the past and he is feeling fit and strong.

There is another motivation for Hudson-Odoi to make a strong start to the new season, which could also have a say in what happens in the remaining weeks of the summer transfer window.

Despite numerous reports suggesting he is ready to switch allegiance to play for Ghana at the World Cup in November, it is understood that it is far too premature and is unlikely to happen at all as things stand.

While he faces quite a challenge to force his way back into the reckoning, Hudson-Odoi is still harboring hopes of making it into England’s 26-man squad for the finals.

It will take months of very good form to persuade manager Gareth Southgate to start selecting him again, because the last of his three caps came in 2019. To achieve the feat, he is going to have to feature regularly for someone.

Hudson-Odoi

Hudson-Odoi has not played for England since 2019 (Photo: Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images)

Hudson-Odoi can opt to play for Ghana in Qatar, whose hosting of the World Cup is controversial for the reasons described in this article, despite already playing in competitive games for England. A FIFA rule change in 2020 allows for players with no more than three caps to change, as long as they made those appearances before turning 21.

But Hudson-Odoi isn’t just thinking about the benefit of representing Ghana in one major tournament. By committing to them now, he will be expected to travel long distances during and at the end of seasons for the next decade or so. While it would be a privilege, it is also another burden to cope with during what is already an intense schedule at club level.

At this moment, the vast majority of Chelsea supporters only care about who the club is going to buy. However, the market is a double-edged sword and incomings naturally have an impact on outgoings.

The next few months — the transfer deadline is at 11pm UK time on September 1 — could have a major say in where Hudson-Odoi’s future lies.

(Top photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

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