Even by the standards of a club where the strategies for transfers and youth development are under constant scrutiny, it’s been an especially interesting week for Chelsea.
They signed 20-year-old Christian Pulisic for £58million, with the American set to join from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. Since then, academy product Callum Hudson-Odoi has put in two starring performances in cup games even as Bayern Munich have stepped up their pursuit of the young Englishman.
It seems that the Bundesliga giants are willing to meet Chelsea’s £35million asking price for the 18-year-old, which, firstly, speaks to Hudson-Odoi’s talent and potential, but, equally, raises the age-old question regarding Chelsea’s transfer policy. Are they yet again prioritising making a big splash in the transfer market over using their resources to develop the players they already have?
Manager Maurizio Sarri has publicly said that Hudson-Odoi should turn down the option of moving to Germany and fight for his place at the London club. Yet the same man has given the youngster only a handful of appearances this season, despite Hudson-Odoi being the star of Chelsea’s preseason and looking like he was ready to make the step up.
And this was the perfect season to give a young player that chance – an opportunity that is rare at Chelsea to begin with.
Expectations were low with Sarri coming in during the summer. There is always the pressure to win trophies at Stamford Bridge, but Sarri will be forgiven, just about, if he comes up empty this season, even considering the transfer outlay last summer – a world-record fee for a goalkeeper to land Kepa Arrizabalaga, getting Mateo Kovacic on a season-long loan in the deal that sent Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid, and bringing in Jorginho alongside Sarri from Napoli.
The club were no doubt aware that catching up to last season’s Manchester City would be a tall ask. Liverpool have done it, but with the benefit of a team that reached last season’s Champions League final adding key pieces to strengthen the squad.
Yet before this weekend, Hudson-Odoi had added just two starts to the one he made in the Community Shield against City, and both had come in the Europa League after Chelsea had already qualified for the knockout stages.
He’s made just one Premier League appearance, despite the inconsistency of Pedro and the sharp dip in form of Willian. And just days after that league debut, he got the news that Pulisic would be arriving in the summer and would presumably be an unquestioned starter, given the transfer fee.
There is of course the possibility that the two players play together, especially if Eden Hazard leaves this summer. Willian’s Chelsea career is surely coming to an end and even if it’s not, Hudson-Odoi would deserve to jump ahead of him in the pecking order on potential alone.
The way he’s played in Chelsea’s last two games, the FA Cup win over Nottingham Forest and then the narrow loss to Tottenham in the away leg of the League Cup semi-final, shows that he’s got the talent to be playing more.
So given the way this season has panned out, why wouldn’t the London native be looking at his options?
Bayern are in the middle of a youth revolution. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are leaving at the end of the season. Meanwhile, 23-year-olds Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka and 21-year-old Renato Sanches are all recent young signings (or returnees, in Sanches’ case, after his doomed loan spell at Swansea) who are now getting extended minutes in the first team. The 18-year-old Alphonso Davies has joined from the MLS this month, and 22-year-old Benjamin Pavard is on his way in the summer.
And of course, FC Hollywood remain the biggest team in Germany, even after a poor start to the season has seen them playing catch-up to Dortmund in the league table this season – a pursuit that may yet prove to be successful and end in a seventh straight league title. They face a tough draw in the Champions League – Liverpool – but they’ve been perennial quarter-finalists and semi-finalists this decade.
For Hudson-Odoi, it’s a no-brainer. And that simply shows how little has changed at Chelsea.
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