Experience necessary: Hudson-Odoi and the benefits of learning on the job
Callum Hudson-Odoi proved there’s no experience like match experience after the Chelsea winger made his full England debut in the 5-1 win in Montenegro on Monday night, writes Michael Hincks.
Hudson-Odoi made it 1-0 on Monday evening, not by getting on the scoresheet, but in securing his first England start before making Chelsea’s starting line-up in the Premier League.
In doing so, the 18-year-old winger became the first England player of the Premier League era to start for his country before his club domestically in the league – not since Steve Bould in 1990 had that been the case.
But it was not blind faith from England head coach Gareth Southgate, for Hudson-Odoi has been a regular in Chelsea’s Europa League campaign, where he has scored four times this season.
England controlled play early on, allowing Hudson-Odoi and fellow first-starter Declan Rice to settle down on the ball, but it was a Montenegro goal against the run of play which left Hudson-Odoi with plenty to ponder.
He was beaten all too easily in the air by Zarko Tomasevic, and was then guilty of ball-watching as Marko Vesovic bundled his way through the England defence to curl an absolute pearler past Jordan Pickford.
It was a harsh lesson for Hudson-Odoi in being caught out defensively, with right-back Kyle Walker not shying away from reminding the youngster of his duty to get back, but the teenager did not buckle.
A tactical switch from Southgate saw Hudson-Odoi and Sterling swap wings, and from there on in, the former looked far more comfortable, perhaps relishing taking on Filip Stojkovic as opposed to Tomasevic.
And after Michael Keane equalised for England, it was Hudson-Odoi who cut in from the left and saw what was essentially a shot – albeit going a smidgen wide – turned in by Chelsea team-mate Ross Barkley, who himself was in his element with two goals and one assist.
Hudson-Odoi continued on the left after the break, and he found as much joy cutting inside as he did taking it down the channel, forcing a smart low save from Danijel Petkovic when darting diagonally into the area.
A goal apiece from Sterling and Kane ensured the match finished 5-1, and though Barkley will take the majority of plaudits, Hudson-Odoi’s performance caught the eye in what proved to be the perfect environment in which to gain experience and learn from mistakes.
As Ian Wright put it so perfectly at half-time in the ITV studio, “he’s learning on the job”, and though it is an obvious point to make, Hudson-Odoi would not have been able to rectify his errors for Montenegro’s goal had Southgate not shown the faith to start him in the first place.
And as the internationals make way for club football once more, the attention will inevitably turn to whether Hudson-Odoi can follow up his first England start with a run from the off in the Premier League for Chelsea.
Callum Hudson-Odoi and Maurizio SarriImago
A double match-week – at Cardiff on Saturday before hosting Brighton the following Wednesday – offers Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri the opportunity to do just that, but whether the Italian answers those calls from his own supporters remains to be seen.
With a top-four spot to fight for, Sarri could be forgiven for not being as willing to experiment as Southgate, but Hudson-Odoi’s fearlessness in attack means a match at Cardiff is arguably the perfect place for what no longer appears to be a gamble.
Hudson-Odoi has much to learn, but he will only keep maturing as a footballer if he gets minutes on the pitch. Southgate gave him his chance, now it’s time to see if Sarri follows suit.
Michael Hincks @MichaelHincks