Whenever you achieve major accomplishments, it’s normal to think about your humble beginnings.
Chelsea became European champions earlier this year in May. That meteoric high on the biggest stage in front of the world is a complete contrast to the empty Leg O'Mutton Field ground in Cobham today – a mere stone's throw away from one of the biggest talent factories in the country.
There's a real sense of excitement in the air, and that's down to the players kicking ball on the pitch here – and given it's two of La Cobham's finest talents that have gone up the system together at different times, the shoot naturally full of vibes. In the distance, Loftus-Cheek is going through drills on camera while the man we're linking up with today, Callum Hudson-Odoi, is a blur of motion, performing an array of tricks for some close up shots.
Despite his relaxed approach and contagious energy, you simply can’t miss how determined and focussed this young man is. Calteck maintains a poise of calmness as he struts around – but there's a distinct attitude of wanting to nail every move perfectly as he practices them. It’s that same attitude that has seen this baller win every major European title available to him. UEFA Champions League. UEFA Supercup. Europa League. That's some record for a 20-year-old.
Despite his several run-ins with greatness, it feels like this season more than any prior is a real moment for the England international. His recovery from a serious injury is well-documented, but his ability is probably even more on record. Alongside a host of other products from Cobham, CHO is looking beyond the recent success and looking to create a legacy.
We caught up with Callum Hudson-Odoi as he geared up for an all-time important season in his career and chopped it up on everything from his family ties, trip to Ghana and new role under Tuchel through to his ambitions and dreams for the future.
Artwork & photography by Sam Pemberton.
Mayowa: First things first, how have you been? Full pre-season underneath your belt, exciting season ahead. How are things?
Callum Hudson-Odoi: I’ve been good, you know! This pre-season has helped me. That rest and break we needed after the Champions League was there – we needed that time to recharge and get back to ourselves. It’s been a really good thing for all of us and for myself. I feel fresh, I feel really ready to go and I feel healthy!
Obviously, with your summer, you had to watch the EUROs after not making the squad. What was it like watching those magical moments as a fan with a lot of your friends being in that squad?
Of course it’s exciting when you see people that you know playing in the England team, representing the country and trying to win a trophy. As you said it’s unfortunate not to be in it. Obviously you wanna be involved with England. As I said, it’s one of those things that happens but you keep thinking good things for everybody and want them to win. It was really unfortunate that they didn’t but it’s good times and exciting times for the England squad and hopefully we achieve many things in the future.
And you’ll be back there (with England) soon, right?
One thing I wanted to chat to you about was suffering a major injury. I think what happens sometimes is, people forget the sort of impact that can have. People often forget context. Before that injury, you were in an amazing stride and everything was going right. During that injury spell, What did you learn about yourself and what helped you get through that period of time? It isn’t something everyone is going to face.
It’s one of those injuries where you can’t face it all by yourself. You have a lot of physios around you trying to help you get back to where you were before it happened. When the injury happened, I had a lot of people around me advising me and telling me that nothing would happen to me, I would be the same person I was before, just be confident and believe.
But I don’t think people understand how much that injury can affect you as a player. It takes a lot of muscle off your calf and you have to work very hard to get it all back. Even for me now, it still hasn’t fully come back. I’m feeling more confident everyday with each training session and match passing, though.
Right now, I feel like I’ve gotten back to my old self again. I think the injury made me mentally stronger and also physically stronger, as I had to work in the gym everyday. Knowing that you have to come back stronger pushes you harder for sure.
Did you have any fears initially that you wouldn’t come back and be the player you once were?
Definitely. Loads of times. I think through the first month and couple of weeks I kept thinking “will I even be the same person I was? Will I walk and run again?” The way my leg was, it was so strange. I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s one of those things that I thought, “nah, I may not feel the same ever again.” But day by day, people advised me and pushed me whilst giving me confidence I could do it and eventually, I started believing I would get back to being myself.
Credit to you though, because it’s one thing to want to do something and another to put that into practice. Let’s take it back though. You have always been a baller and people who may be unaware of young CHO haven’t seen the clips of you dribbling past a bunch of players when you were at Whitgift. How did you develop that style of play?
I think I’ve always had the eagerness to score goals or become a player who entertains whoever watches. A lot of it is about being myself and being confident on the pitch. When I get the ball, how am I going to get past this player? Where is the goal? How am I going to assist the team to score or score myself or create a chance? I just want to be a player who is always showing their ability and being confident. In my head, I’m always saying, “You know what, I’m gonna get past this person and do what I’m gonna do.”
I think I developed my style watching my brother playing football. I would watch him dribble past people all the time. My dad was the same back in the day whenever I saw clips of him – so it’s always been a family thing! I think they helped implement that into my game and made me think that I’m a dribbler, I’m a goal scorer, I’m an assist maker. I carried that all the way through to the youth levels.
Growing up where we grew up in South London, having a brother to look up to is a nice thing. Having someone that played professionally as well, who travelled around and has stories for days. How important is your brother to you as a figure in your life?
My brother is massively important to me because he is someone who has been there and done it. He tells me that he doesn’t want me to make the mistakes he has made or go down paths that wont help me in the long run. He’s always advising me on what I can do better on and off the pitch, lifestyle, how I can become better on the pitch and get more goals and assists. It’s not just him though. My mum and dad watch the games and advise me. They get down to as many games as possible. They are all important figures – but my bro is someone so relatable because he doesn’t want me to make the mistakes he did.
What is it like getting that advice from your mum and dad… because ultimately, you’ve become a professional footballer which means there has been sacrifice from you and them. Whether it’s taking you to training or just making sure you’re ok. When you see them talking to you about your game, how does that make you feel?
It makes me smile! Hearing that from them constantly just shows me they are interested – they watch the games, want me to improve and are trying to help all the time. When they advise me, they are never harsh. If I’ve had a bad game, I know I’ve had a bad game. If I have a good game, I’ll know I’ve had a good game. They always give me constructive criticism to get better and know that next time in a situation, I can do something better. It’s nice, man! I respect them with everything so I need to hear it from them to improve.
What’s the funniest thing you have heard about your game from one of your parents
When I was younger… Under 14s, I think… my mum and dad were like “You don’t run enough! Keep working hard!’ And I was like, “nah, nah, check my stats, they are the highest on the pitch.” They came back and told me “but we are watching you on the pitch, you ain’t running!”
I was like you can’t tell me that, the stats say I am the highest. Even when the numbers were there to be seen, you can’t fight them because they are your parents… they have always said stuff like that throughout the age groups.
It reminds me of our West African culture when your parents want you to do more at school. If you get an A, why didn’t you get an A*?! If you get an A*, why didn’t you get 100%?! If you get 100%, why didn’t you get that last time?!
There’s always something (laughs) but it keeps you pushing!
When you look at Chelsea now, they are European Champions. A lot of young players are coming through. Record numbers in fact. How does it feel to be a part of this Chelsea team right now?
It’s a very exciting time. I mean of course we won the Champions League, but we have to put that behind us now. It’s a new season. We wanna win more trophies. I think our main aim is to win the league. I think every team tries hard to do that. We are gonna push as hard as we can for that and also go as far as we can again in the Champions League. As a team, we are exciting and have some young players coming through alongside some players with great experience. It’s good to have that balance and great instructions from the manager.
That mentality of wanting to win more is something that you get when you play for such a historic club. One thing that stands out to me though is that this Chelsea Champions League triumph feels very different to the last one. It was a win that was filled with loads of youth players. These young players are people who you came up with through Cobham. Does that make you look at this achievement any differently knowing you did it with people who are literally your brothers?
I think it’s much more special when you win it with people you have won everything with when you were younger. You look at it and think “rah, I just came through the age groups with these guys and nwo we are on the main stage and did it”. We got those gold medals in front of everyone and it was a proper amazing feeling. Everyone in the world stops to watch this game of two teams playing. When you win it and then see the trophy after being surrounded by all of your boys, it’s an amazing feeling. I thought it was a dream the next day. When I got home, reality finally settled in.
After you won the Champions League, I saw you active in the community attending kick-abouts and seeing the kids. How important is giving back to you? Do you see yourself as a role model now because of your path in football?
I feel like when you do that stuff, you ain’t just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for everyone else. I want to help as much as I can within the community. When I see other kids wanting to live their dream and become a pro, I try to help as much as possible. We all started from somewhere, so it’s nice to help them on that start. I try my best to go around and see them and make them smile. They don’t always get to see someone who plays pro. It makes me smile knowing they are happy.
One of the things about being a baller is that you are constantly in the public eye. You personally have had to handle a lot of pressure from people expecting you to be on top form after injury to international call ups very quickly to massive transfer bids. How do you overcome all of that?
To be fair, I just try to keep my mind clear and focused on being on the field and enjoying myself. When I’m on the pitch, I’m the happiest I can be. When I’m on the ball, I’m smiling. When they are with me, it’s just a good feeling. Any stresses you have off the pitch, you can go onto the pitch and be stress free. I think whenever things come up or media things, I just keep my mind focused on football and my family are always there to keep me humble. As the person I am, I just keep calm, relaxed and let everything go day by day.
Talk to me about Ghana. That looked like good fun… The entourage, the vibes! How much does your background mean to you? How important was that trip for you?
It was a special feeling. I hadn’t been back since 2010 and I always said if I get the chance to go back, I’ll go back. I went back to see some family members and do some things. After the UCL, I went back and as soon as I arrived it was just vibes, bro. From minute one, it was just lit. That was the energy you just love to see. You come back home and see everyone just dancing and catching a vibe.
A lot of people support Chelsea. Everywhere you go, there is a football fan. I could be walking and all you would hear is “Odoi! Odoi!’ It’s so funny because you will try and keep underground but they spot you. I enjoyed every single moment of it.
My heritage means a lot to me – and for my mum and dad. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about their journey and how things were for them in Ghana. It was nice to see family members because my mum and dad couldn’t be there. Just nice to see everyone as you don’t see people that often. Getting shown where my parents used to stay and catching up was really nice. It’s been 11 years now, so it was good to see it all again.
Now, talk to me about this wing back role… You were saying earlier about your mum and dad saying you need to run more. How much running is involved in that wing-back role and how different is it from that winger role you are used to playing? How have you found getting used to different roles too?
That role is different! To be fair, playing as a winger and wing back is so different. As a winger, defensively you are doing that as a forward and trying to press the centre-backs and full-backs. As a wing back, you have to get back to your own box, then go all the way to the other box to assist or score then you are back in your own box. It’s end to end – and it’s exciting!
For me, when the manager first said I was playing there I was like “What! What do you mean wing-back?!” Then I played there and thought it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s just that I hadn’t played there before. I’ve played a bit more now and understand the role a lot more – but it is very different to playing as a winger. It ain’t that bad though!
For you, we can talk about the trophies you’ve won – but how did it feel to have a new challenge in learning a new position?
When he told me, I was just shocked. It wasn’t about why, really, it was just a shock as I had never done it. But when we were going through the shape, I found myself getting it and understanding more. It’s a good experience.
If a new manager wants you to play somewhere, it’s a good experience. For me personally. You never know in football. One day the manager might say go and play left back, right back, midfield. It’s always good to learn new things and develop and adapt to it.
I’ve got to ask about this bromance with Pulisic too bro, tell me about it. How has this come to be?
Me and Christian have a good relationship on and off the field. When we play, we try to play with each other as much as possible. But more widely, I think I have a good relationship with everyone on the team. We are always smiling and laughing – the whole team has a good energy and humour, but everyone knows when it’s time to be serious.
And it’s good to have a relationship with everyone because you don’t want problems with anyone on the team. Me and Christian have a good relationship though. We chill off the pitch sometimes. As a team we are building something so we just have to keep going.
You’ve been an adidas guy for a while. A few times, I’ve seen you with some throwback boots. What are your favourite adidas boots ever?
F50s for sure. The OGs. All yellow with those black stripes… next level. I had a few different packs. From Under 11 times. I just love them!
Right now, you have the X Speedflow. How do you feel about this new boot and that element of ‘speedfullness’?
Speed is an important part of my game. I like to think that I’m a fast player – so when I get on the ball, I wanna get past players. Off the ball, I wanna chase the ball back from opposition players. I think the boots are meant to help your game. You always want to be faster and lighter.
I wanna be a player who explodes past others and feels light when you do it. For me, the boots feel really light. I feel comfortable in them – and in the games I’ve played in them, they feel good!
You play the game with this sense of ease and flow. A lot of that is from your speed and agility but how much of that would you say is mindset of you being relaxed and executing what you want to do?
On the pitch, I feel like you just have to be free… and play with freedom. The manager tells you instructions to carry out of the field, but he can’t tell you how to play the game. It’s always different watching from the side and actually playing – so I need to think about everything at a controlled pace while playing.
For me, when I’m playing, I’m just trying to think two steps ahead of everyone else. What’s the next pass, what’s the next dribble, what are they going to try and do when they get the ball. I am just always trying to carry out what I want to do quicker than the person against me can think about it. A lot of that comes from being free and doing what you do
Recently, I saw you DJ in a Chelsea advert. I’ve also seen you be a photographer in another ad with the club… are those things you are actually interested in outside of football?
Nah, nah… that’s just me expressing myself, being lit and having a good time! DJing and photography is not for me at all!! Not me for sure but off the pitch you have to smile and be happy so yeah i was just trying to make everyone smile.
What would you say you are into outside of football?
Probably music, I can sing a bit… but I’ll rather just dance and chill.
You’ve got another big season ahead, what are you looking to achieve and what would you summarise as success for yourself?
As many goals and assists as possible. I’m trying to be more hungry and trying to get more goals and assists and contribute to the team. Whether that is the goals and assists or contributing to winning the ball back and stopping the ball from going in. Clean sheets are very important because if they don;t score, they don’t win. So yeah just help the team much more.
Callum Hudson-Odoi wears the new adidas X speedflow, available from adidas.