For Callum Hudson-Odoi , his first Bayer Leverkusen goal had been overdue since making the loan move to Die Werkself back in August. The Cobham graduate has been getting the regular game time he has craved but rarely received at Stamford Bridge. He is a regular name on the Leverkusen team sheet, already a favourite among two coaches following Xabi Alonso replacing Gerardo Seoane at the beginning of this month.
But Hudson-Odoi has seen either his first goal or even assists, snatched away in the Champions League by VAR in the two games against Porto that effectively ruled the Bundesliga side out of progressing to the knockout stage. In the Wanda Metropolitano though, there would be no intervention as the winger cut inside to the centre of the six-yard box and calmly struck the ball past Jan Oblak to reclaim Leverkusen’s lead.
A revealing stat was that with that finish, Hudson- Odoi gas now scored more goals than Joao Felix at Atletico’s home stadium this season, and just the third English player to score for a German side in the Champions League, after Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham. Hudson-Odoi charged over to the touchline to celebrate with his teammates, a sign of how smoothly the transition has been from west London to North Rhine-Westphalia. It feels timely that this goal came in the week when Hudson-Odoi opened up about his time so far on loan in an extensive interview with The Athletic.
“My mindset was, ‘I have to get out of there’, Not in a rude way, as in I don’t like the club or I don’t want to be at the club, I don’t like the club,” Hudson-Odoi explains on the decision to leave the Blues. “But I needed to play football somewhere new. Start afresh. Try the best I can wherever I am. And then go back to Chelsea at the end of the loan.”
His story at Stamford Bridge has become quite repetitive with the once-heralded academy talent gaining brief runs in the first team before dropping out again onto the fringes. It was a cycle that felt like a bottleneck, where given the constant demands for results at Chelsea , any room for steady progression is shunned in favour of instant gratification. Hudson-Odoi looks freer at Leverkusen.
Although he has been deployed on both flanks and as an attacking midfielder, he is playing in areas that are more suited to his skillset, rather than being crammed into an unfamiliar role when Chelsea needed a makeshift solution.
“At times, it was okay.” Hudson-Odoi says on being a wingback. “But sometimes in my, I’m thinking, ‘What am I doing, why am I in this position? I’m more defending than attacking’. No matter where I was playing, I was always trying to do my best and help the team — it’s not always about myself. I never argued; I just got on with it. But in order to get the best out of yourself, you have to play where you can feel most comfortable and do what you can do best.”
The 22-year-old has started four of the six Bundesliga games he has been a part of and started all five of Leverkusen’s Champions League group games. At this rate, he is likely to fly past the number of minutes racked up at his parent club barring any injury setbacks. This is what the loan was for, to get Hudson-Odoi out of one bubble and into an environment where we could gain a clearer picture of his potential. One noteworthy element of the interview was mentioning a comment by Chelsea co-owner and Chairman Todd Boehly before departing to Germany I’m the summer. “He said:
‘Make sure to do your thing over there — be confident, be free, be the player that you want to be.”
There have been some suggestions that Hudson- Odoi could be recalled in January, something that is a little less certain now Graham Potter is in the dugout rather than Thomas Tuchel. However, given the freedom, he seems to be enjoying and the added boost of his first goal, allowing the winger a full season away from the scrutiny of Chelsea may offer a better player come next summer should he return.