Some players just stand out; everyone in the game knows they are a special talent and there is no split opinion about it. Callum Hudson-Odoi, who could make his England debut this week, is one of them.
Having starred at age-group level for Chelsea’s successful youth teams and the World Cup-winning England Under-17 side, Hudson-Odoi has begun to make his mark in the first team this season.
All the same, at just 18 and yet to start a Premier League game, his senior international call-up came as a surprise. But in football, it’s always said that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
Hudson-Odoi has showcased his strengths in 19 appearances for Chelsea this term: balance, movement, pace and an eye for goal that has seen him score five times.
When I have watched him play he has also looked calm beyond his years. It isn’t talked about that much but mentality is a big factor in whether players rise to the challenge.
He may not even get on the pitch in England’s upcoming matches, the opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic, on Friday, and Montenegro, on Monday.
But given that he has been earmarked for big things, there’s a logic to familiarising him with the senior set-up, and Gareth Southgate is right to think: why not?
Nucleus from same generation
Southgate has shown he is ready to take a risk on young players – he picked Trent Alexander-Arnold, 19, Marcus Rashford, 20, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 22, for last summer’s World Cup.
Since then he has incorporated Jadon Sancho, 18, into his squad and given him two caps, while West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, 20, is also in line for a debut this week.
In my experience, it makes sense to build the nucleus of the squad from players of the same generation. You are more likely to get a cohesive team who understand each other.
Like Sancho, Hudson-Odoi is a versatile forward and was part of the England Under-17 team who won the World Cup two years ago – in fact, he started in the final with Spain while Sancho was on the bench.
And like the Borussia Dortmund star, he has caught the eye of the Bundesliga’s top scouts, with Bayern Munich offering Chelsea £30m for the teenager in the January transfer window.
Home-grown talent drain
While moving to Germany has fast-tracked Sancho’s career, it has made moving abroad more attractive to young players – and I’m a bit worried that could mean the Premier League losing home-grown talent.
Top-flight managers can be reluctant to throw youngsters in, as Hudson-Odoi himself has found – for all his impressive cameos in the cups, he is yet to become a first choice for Maurizio Sarri.
But the fact that he has forced his way into Sarri’s plans sufficiently to make an impact on Southgate is a positive and, hopefully, could encourage other young English players to stay.
Chelsea ought to be thankful, too. With the club currently banned from making signings, it will be vital for them to develop and retain stars of their academy like Hudson-Odoi.
The case of Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup shows that promoting very young prospects to the senior England squad when low on league experience doesn’t always work out.
But our top teams and their academies have improved so much since then and now churn out super-fit athletes with great technical ability and a single-mindedness to succeed.
That’s why I’ve got no qualms about Hudson-Odoi’s call-up. Those who earn their opportunity at the top level are exceptional players and deserve to be given every chance.