Written off by many, Callum Hudson-Odoi could be bargain of the year

Callum Hudson-Odoi poses at the Nottingham Forest training ground

As English football prodigies go, Callum Hudson-Odoi was up there with some of the brightest hopes – an England Under-17 World Cup winner, in the Chelsea first team as a teenager and then, as his career took off, a target for German giants Bayern Munich.

Now he finds himself having to rebuild that glittering reputation at Nottingham Forest, where the underdog mentality will provide the perfect environment for a player many have written off.

Forest paid just £3 million to sign Hudson-Odoi, who ended his 16-year association with Chelsea this summer, and there is a sense that he could prove one of the bargains of the year if his former England coach Steve Cooper can get him firing again.

It has been quite a résumé already: he was the youngest player to make his debut for England in a competitive fixture, at 18 and 135 days, until Jude Bellingham came along the following year, and was on the bench for Chelsea’s 2021 Champions League triumph.

As Hudson-Odoi reflects on the ups and downs of his career, it is remarkable to consider he is still only 22.

“Everyone at Forest has been saying the same since I signed – it feels like I’ve been around for a long time,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “I’ve been playing from a very young age in Chelsea’s first team but I’m not even 23 until November.

“The journey has been up and down, a roller-coaster good and bad. Now I just want to make sure that my head is focused and I’m ready for every game. I’ve experienced so much in a space of time but there’s so much more to come. I’ve got so many years ahead of me.”

Hudson-Odoi is fully focused on the new chapter with Forest and his family will be travelling up from London to attend Monday’s home game against Burnley. Yet those memories of Chelsea will be impossible to wipe away after first joining the club’s revered academy at the age of six.

A direct winger with explosive acceleration, he was once regarded as one of the finest youngsters to emerge from Cobham, but this summer felt compelled to cut the cord. After being sent on loan to Bayer Leverkusen last season, his last league appearance for Chelsea came in January 2022 amid the chaos and churn of manager sackings and £1 billion spent on new players.

‘Leaving Chelsea was my decision but it was emotional’

Hudson-Odoi joins a list of academy graduates including Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fikayo Tomori to have departed the mothership.

“Chelsea has been my home for a very long time and knowing it was time to go was emotional,” he says. “It was difficult, we had conversations but I thought it was best if I leave. It was a mutual agreement, but I’d say it was more my decision.

“Forest is the right place for me to excel in my football, and do more than I probably could at Chelsea. I want to be playing as much as possible.”

Hudson-Odoi’s initial impact at Chelsea cannot be overestimated, and when he burst onto the scene in 2018 it appeared a golden future was assured.

Callum Hudson-Odoi scores for Chelsea in Champions League match in November 2020

The England cap followed a year later, and he was tearing it up in arenas all across Europe. Bayern Munich initiated a lengthy pursuit, making multiple bids of up to £40 million.

What does Hudson-Odoi remember of it? “It was a crazy time. You like to see those big teams coming in and it makes you feel very good about yourself,” he says. “It was a good period of time during my career and anything could have happened. Then I got the injury…”

Ah, the injury. For a player so reliant on speed, rupturing an Achilles was a colossal hurdle to overcome. Though he is now fully recovered, Hudson-Odoi can point to it as a significant setback that halted his trajectory.

“People don’t really understand the injury unless you have it. It’s very difficult because not only does it affect your whole running method but it takes power off your calf,” he says. “Even coming back in the first two years, you still never gain that same power that you had before. When it happened it was tough but I’m over it now and don’t have any problems.”

Hudson-Odoi has now found a new home, joining Forest on deadline day in a blizzard of activity. Out of the 42 signings made since the club’s return to the Premier League, his arrival has generated arguably the most intrigue.

Cooper’s influence was a major factor. A coach with a proven record of improving young players, such as Morgan Gibbs-White, Marc Guehi and Conor Gallagher, he could be the manager to unlock Hudson-Odoi’s rich potential again.

Hudson-Odoi also played every game in England Under-17s’ win at the World Cup under Cooper in 2017.

“There were a lot of different places I could have ended up at, but once ‘Coops’ made the call my head was straight here,” he says. “He definitely brought the best out of me with England. The big thing about him is how he understands players, on and off the pitch.

“He’s always making sure that you’re mentally right and comfortable, and free in what you do.”

The message from Cooper is always the same: “Don’t be boring! He’s been saying it to me for as long as I can remember. ‘Take risks, don’t let anything hold you back and be yourself. Create problems every time you’re on the ball.’

“You want to have that freedom to do your stuff, whether it’s scoring or creating goals for the team. That’s what I want, to excite the crowd.”

Hudson-Odoi also has ambitions of returning to the international stage. He has made three appearances for England and is eligible to play for Ghana through his parents.

Callum Hudson-Odoi in action for England Under-21s in 2020
The winger has made three appearances for England and is still eligible for to play for Ghana through his parents - Alex Livesay/Getty Images

“That decision hasn’t been made yet. I’m still thinking it over. Ghana is a very good option but let’s wait and see. Hopefully once I start playing games here, maybe Gareth [Southgate] or Ghana will come. It’s a nice position to be in and hopefully sooner or later we will know.”

Forest face Burnley with the club in a good place, after an impressive transfer window and the 1-0 win at Chelsea in their last match. While Hudson-Odoi is set to make his debut, there could also be a first appearance for record signing Ibrahim Sangare.

“It’s a good squad here, there’s a lot of very good players,” says Hudson-Odoi. “Everybody is like a big family.

“If I can get myself to where I know I can be, it will be great for everybody. I want to pick it up and play the way I usually do, and be confident in everything I do. If I can do that, it will be a good signing for the club.”

And, of course, not be boring.