Chelsea assistant manager Gianfranco Zola has reassured Callum Hudson-Odoi that his long-term future is at Stamford Bridge, insisting few 18-year-olds enjoy as much playing time as he does.

The teenage forward was heavily associated with a move to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich last month and there’s reportedly been a growing frustration regarding a lack of playing time under embattled coach Maurizio Sarri.

How does Hudson-Odoi’s minutes compare to other PL 18-year-olds?    

  1. Callum Hudson-Odoi has only received 74 minutes of PL action, while there are four 18-year-olds who have already racked up more playing time on the pitch.
  2. Ryan Sessegnon: Fulham’s wide player has been given 1462 league minutes this term.
  3. Michael Obafemi: the striker has played 116 minutes of Premier League football at Southampton.
  4. Oliver Skipp: Mauricio Pochettino has given the Spurs youngster 187 minutes.
  5. Phil Foden: so far the “Stockport Iniesta” has picked up 93 minutes of action under Pep Guardiola.

Hudson-Odoi, who enjoyed a successful youth career at the west London club, broke into Chelsea’s first-team under former boss Antonio Conte with a view to this season being his breakthrough.

However, it’s been anything but, with the Londoner featuring sporadically and much of his playing being reserved for the various cup competitions, most notably the Europa League.

He’s featured in five of the Blues’ opening seven European games, registering a goal and assist in their 4-0 win over Greek side PAOK last November.

A popular figure among supporters, many felt as soon as Bayern showed keen interest in acquiring his signature, Sarri would feature him more prominently in their league campaign; but since making his first minutes – in a 2-1 away win at Watford – he’s been left out of three of his subsequent six squads.

This has naturally led to speculation of his standing among the Italian tactician, fuelling a potential summer departure, but Sarri’s lieutenant and club legend Zola has told Hudson-Odoi to bide his time.

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“I disagree on that. He’s always on the edge of the team,” he told reporters.

“As soon as there is an opportunity, he plays. Sometimes from the beginning. Sometimes he comes on.

“The manager is giving him plenty of reasons to feel involved and wanted. I want to stress this out: there aren’t many 18-year-olds in Europe playing as many games as he is. There might be one or two. He’s playing. And, on top of that, he’s a player we appreciate and we believe is growing up.

“He has a bright future in this club, the whole coaching group like him. Please, you need to understand that he’s surrounded by top players. You have to work hard to be better than them, and that’s what we want. We want him to play but also keep improving. He can still do better than he’s doing.”

The difficulty of making it at Chelsea

Hudson-Odoi isn’t the first Chelsea youngster finding it hard to establish himself in the club’s first team. In recent years he’s seen the likes of Josh McEachran, Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker come and go. In the case of the latter two they are both still contracted and currently on loan at Leeds United and Reading respectively.

It must be even harder seeing his own contemporaries either being pivotal figures or given more playing time. Jadon Sancho, who has played alongside Hudson-Odoi at youth international level with England, is the most notable example. Since moving to Borussia Dortmund from Manchester City in 2017 he’s gone on to play 41 times for the German giants registering nine goals and 17 assists. He’s currently racked up 1356 minutes of Bundesliga football this season.

Clubs, especially those chasing glory, are no longer afraid to assimilate youngsters if they are deemed good enough. Matteo Guendouzi, who might be 19, is one such player who looks to have a promising future at Arsenal. Another is Phil Foden, who Hudson-Odoi also played alongside at youth international level, with the Manchester City midfielder seeing plenty more Premier League minutes (91) this season than Hudson-Odoi, despite coming about during eight outings (all substitute appearances), whereas Hudson-Odoi’s 74 minutes have come across four games.

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