Is Chelsea’s £8m Callum Hudson-Odoi the answer for struggling Everton – or is he beyond repair?

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Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi has been linked with Everton, Fulham and Nottingham Forest - but is he a gamble, or does he still have something left to give?

With one year left on his Chelsea contract, Callum Hudson-Odoi is unwanted and out of Mauricio Pochettino’s plans – and according to the latest reports sliding off the ever-turning rumour mill, there are several teams interested in giving his career a much-needed shot in the arm.

Everton have apparently emerged as the front-runners as they look to improve an attack with very few goals and very little creativity in it, while Fulham and Nottingham Forest have also been mentioned as contenders for the former England international’s signature, with a fee reportedly set at a fairly budget-friendly £8m.

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Callum Hudson-Odoi scored just once on loan at Bayer Leverkusen having been a first-team regular at Chelsea before.Callum Hudson-Odoi scored just once on loan at Bayer Leverkusen having been a first-team regular at Chelsea before.
Callum Hudson-Odoi scored just once on loan at Bayer Leverkusen having been a first-team regular at Chelsea before. | Getty Images

Would he make sense for any of these clubs, all of whom could be closer than they’d like to the Premier League relegation zone, or would he be an inspired gamble? Because it’s not so long ago that Hudson-Odoi was a sparkling young prospect, and the idea of getting that version of him is tantalising. But this is a young man who has had an awful lot of fitness problems, and that should give any prospective purchase pause for thought.

His injury history is long and fraught. When he was injured at the end of February 2022, there was some confusion. Thomas Tuchel described it as a problem with his Achilles tendon, a potential recurrence of the major injury he endured in 2019 and which could so easily have derailed his career. Hudson-Odoi himself would later say that the injury was actually to his back and caused by issues with his nerves – and that it may even be linked to long Covid.

Whatever the truth, it marked the end of Hudson-Odoi’s Chelsea career, not that anybody knew it at the time. Hudson-Odoi, a first-team regular for two seasons at this point, rapidly fell out of favour and found himself sent out on loan to Bayer Leverkusen. It did not go well.

Hudson-Odoi looked a shadow of his former self. He started just seven league games and barely put boot on grass after he was publicly criticised by sporting director and former German international midfielder Simon Rolfes. He had very visibly lost a lot of pace, a major problem who had made his incredible bursts of acceleration a huge part of his game. It’s not an uncommon problem for players with longstanding Achilles issues – once that goes, it’s almost impossible to get back to full speed again.

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And his underlying technical stats (from the occasions he did get a few minutes) weren’t too bad. His passing accuracy actually improved substantially, which probably happens to a lot of players who train under Rolfes and head coach Xabi Alonso. But he wasn’t making any contributions in the final third – he wasn’t able to get into positions from which he could do so. In his brief Chelsea peak he averaged about two attempts on goal per game – in Germany it was 0.6. He was touching the ball in the final third less than half as often as he had done at his best, and his dribbling success rate went down. He had based so much of his game and his understanding of how to play it on his quick feet that when they went, he looked bereft.

So what not for Hudson-Odoi, who is still only 22? If he really does have a lingering Achilles problem, then he will have to completely reshape his game. He will never get that burst of acceleration back – if it was an Achilles problem – and will have to learn to become a different kind of player. He is, by all accounts, desperate to get out of Chelsea and get first-team football and is happy to take a pay cut to do so, which implies the attitude of a player willing to make the hard yards involved in what can be a very difficult process, but whether any team can afford to assure him of the minutes he’d need to make it work is another matter.

Everton have the worst attack in the division, scoring fewer goals than anyone else last season and have drawn back-to-back blanks to open the campaign. They also have limited resources as a result of years of bad investments in the transfer market and the immense expense of developing Bramley Moore Dock. £8m is, in their situation, a large risk for a club who need goals (and players who can provide them) right now. They can’t afford to wait for Hudson-Odoi to work it out – which makes their interest somewhat perplexing.

Fulham, meanwhile, are in better overall shape but goals are the pressing issue for them as well since Aleksandr Mitrović departed for more lucrative pastures. They don’t have quite the same dearth of creative players that Everton do and are far less likely to be sucked into a relegation battle (although based on their 3-0 thumping at home to Brentford, it’s still possible) so perhaps have the resources and breathing room to give Hudson-Odoi a chance to work himself out.

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Hudson-Odoi missed over 50 Chelsea matches due to various injuries.Hudson-Odoi missed over 50 Chelsea matches due to various injuries.
Hudson-Odoi missed over 50 Chelsea matches due to various injuries. | Getty Images

Nottingham Forest, meanwhile, would presumably be planning to use him as a wing-back, where he played for much of his time under Tuchel. They already have Serge Aurier and Neco Williams, but could see Hudson-Odoi as good competition – or they may believe that the old Hudson-Odoi, with his pace and attacking flair, is still in there and see him as a potential member of their front line. Only a team giving the man a medical can really assess how realistic that is, but you can understand any transfer for him a great deal more if the firm belief is that he should be able to work through the lingering effects of his injury. If he gets that extra half-yard of pace back, then he can become the player he threatened to be. There is still time.

And really, that’s the judgement any team have to make. £8m may seem like chicken feed in the modern Premier League, but these are teams with carefully balanced budgets (or very haphazardly balanced budgets, in the case of Everton) and that money would have a use elsewhere. The transfer window always winds up as a zero sum game, and buying Hudson-Odoi means not buying somebody else. In a relegation battle, that could make all the difference.

Wherever he goes next, let’s just hope they look after him. The footballing fates have been cruel so far, but his raw ability is absolutely unquestionable – if he still has the fire inside him, then he could make a first-rate player yet. But if we were looking at the prospect of a long, hard season, we’re not sure that attempting to revivify Hudson-Odoi’s career is where we’d start. Let’s just hope that somebody does, and that we get proven wrong.

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