Chelsea’s wasteful and wretched record of youth integration has been covered at great length, but in recent seasons, the West London outfit have begun to make steady progress in the deployment of their young talents. Nathaniel Chalobah made 15 appearances during the Blues’ successful title challenge in the 2016/17 season, while both Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have amassed over 50 appearances for the club, in spite of enjoying successful loan moves away from Stamford Bridge.
Despite the notable improvement, ineffective use of young players has been one of the most prominent critiques of Maurizio Sarri’s tenure in charge of Chelsea. Ethan Ampadu has been restricted to a mere four appearances this season; the same total that he has attained for Wales. Moreover, despite Bayern Munich’s willingness to sign Callum Hudson-Odoi, the teenager is continually overlooked by Sarri for involvement during significant games.
The 18-year-old has made 13 senior appearances for Chelsea this season, most of which have been as a substitute. The Englishman has yet to start in the Premier League this term, which seems strange following Sarri’s public admission that he considers the winger to be of equal standing to Willian and Pedro. Furthermore, his only significant start this season was the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Spurs, which interestingly, coincided with a period of intense Bayern Munich interest in the starlet.
Since the conclusion of the transfer window, Hudson-Odoi has only played 19 minutes of senior football for the Blues (13 against Huddersfield, and six against Malmo). Was Sarri’s public appraisal mere lip service to stem the interest from Bayern Munich?
At a club of Chelsea’s stature, expectations are inherently high, and when you factor in the historically ruthless and trigger-happy approach to managers, it’s unsurprising that Sarri continues to favour experienced players. That said, the Italian has also continually questioned the mentality of those experienced players, yet he is blindly and irrationally opting to pick them.
Sarri is quite right in his criticism of his players, whose mentality was also questioned by the likes of Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. However, he single-handedly undermines the salience of his words by continuing to deploy those players. In doing so, Sarri has shown his words to be hollow; they do not bear currency outside press conferences, which in turn, leaves his favoured starting eleven devoid of competition or accountability.
If he is truly unhappy with the performances and the commitment of his favoured players, why doesn’t he look at alternative options within his squad, who, plausibly, would be motivated to prove their value to the team? Since his arrival, Sarri has alienated certain fringe options such as Gary Cahill, Danny Drinkwater and Victor Moses, and his perceptible mistrust in youth talents has been a legitimate concern.
Hudson-Odoi has impressed enormously when selected. He’s technically gifted and possesses an abundance of speed and trickery. Further, his confidence is palpable, and he’s a genuine threat in the final third of the pitch – he has five goal contributions (two goals, three assists) this campaign.
Confidence and continuity are central to the prospective success of young players; the parables to Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson are inevitable, but the comparisons are wholly viable. Talented young players can thrive when given sufficient involvement and sincere trust.
There is genuine concern among the club’s hierarchy that they could face a ban for breaking the rules regarding the acquisition of young foreign players. Theoretically, this should increase Hudson-Odoi’s agency at the club and should reinforce the argument to entrust the youngster with greater involvement; yet the 5 foot 10 youngster is continually disregarded from the first-team picture.
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The current predicament is playing into Bayern Munich’s hands. If Hudson-Odoi continues to be an afterthought in the mind of Sarri and only employed sporadically until the end of the season, then sincere concerns will be evoked about the possibility of becoming a regular first-team player at Chelsea.
Hudson-Odoi has less than 18 months remaining on his contract; the club should be doing everything in their power to retain his services – playing him would be a productive start – but, seemingly, the Blues are content with letting another highly-coveted asset go. At a time when Chelsea should be envisaging a future with Hudson-Odoi at the heart of the scene, particularly amid the uncertain future of Eden Hazard, they’re pushing the youngster ever nearer to the exit door.