Callum Hudson-Odoi has been promoted to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the forthcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro despite the Chelsea winger having yet to start a Premier League game.
The 18-year-old, who has played only 119 minutes of top-flight football, becomes the second member of England’s successful Under-17 World Cup side to make the step up to senior level. He had been due to make his debut for Aidy Boothroyd’s under-21s in the games against Poland and Germany. Instead, shortly after arriving at the juniors’ camp in Bristol, he was drafted into a senior set-up denied a quartet of players through injury and duly travelled to St George’s Park afternoon.
“It’s been a crazy experience but getting my first [senior] international call-up is an amazing feeling,” said Hudson-Odoi. “I thought the manager [Boothroyd] was joking. I was shocked and then, when I heard I actually had to go over, I couldn’t believe it. I was delighted. It’s a dream come true. Now I’ve got to work hard, enjoy every moment and keep working to make an impact when I get the opportunity.”
The youngster, a key member of an all-conquering Chelsea youth team, impressed through England’s junior set-up and scored two goals in seven appearances for the victorious under-17s at the 2017 tournament in India. He now joins his teammate at that event Jadon Sancho in graduating to Southgate’s full squad.
Indeed, the sight of Sancho thriving with regular game time at Borussia Dortmund may have influenced Hudson-Odoi’s desire to move to Bayern Munich in January after the German club submitted three bids, the last worth around £35m, for his services. The forward’s current contract expires in 2020 and he even handed in a transfer request towards the end of the winter window in an attempt to force through a move to the Bundesliga.
While he has offered no indication he is willing to negotiate new terms at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have far from given up hope of convincing him to stay. His elevation came on the day his club confirmed they had complained to Uefa after the teenager was allegedly subjected to racist abuse late on in the Europa League victory at Dynamo Kiev last week.
Hudson-Odoi had started the tie at the Olympic stadium, scoring the visitors’ fifth goal – his fourth goal in Europe this season, and fifth in all competitions – only to find himself on the receiving end of monkey chants close to the final whistle in Chelsea’s emphatic victory. Uefa are expected to investigate those allegations.
He joins West Ham United’s Declan Rice as an England uncapped player in the 23-man senior squad, though the latter made three appearances for the Republic of Ireland in friendly fixtures. Whether Hudson-Odoi’s surprise call-up is welcomed quite so warmly by the Chelsea head coach, Maurizio Sarri, is open to doubt given the Italian has regularly suggested over recent weeks that the expectations heaped on the winger are “dangerous”. Sarri has also spoken warmly of the youngster’s talent and potential but has preferred starting with the more experienced Willian or Pedro in wide areas in the league.
“Callum is a phenomenal talent,” said Boothroyd, who hopes still to have Hudson-Odoi available for the summer’s European Under-21 Championship in Italy and San Marino. “You work really hard to get an opportunity as a player. You do the right things all the time and then you get an opportunity. When a door opens you have got to be able to walk through it. That’s what Jadon Sancho has done, that’s what Ben Chilwell has done, Joe Gomez and the rest. I’m sure he will get an opportunity and will show what he can do.
“He believes he should be at this level that he is playing at. He thinks he can get into the Champions League and that is a great place for a young player to be, to have that confidence. He has got a really bright future ahead of him, wherever he decides to go. He is buzzing, as you can imagine.”
England have recalled the Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse for the games at Wembley and in Podgorica. The 24-year-old won his only senior cap for England in March 2017 but has been in excellent recent form at club level, scoring six goals in his last 10 appearances. Southgate has lost John Stones, Fabian Delph, Luke Shaw and Ruben Loftus-Cheek from his original selection, with all four nursing injuries.
Jordan Henderson, who had sustained an ankle injury early on in Liverpool’s win at Bayern Munich and missed the Premier League leaders’ win at Fulham on Sunday, is expected to train at the national centre on Tuesday and should be available for selection.