The clamour around Callum Hudson-Odoi has barely ceased since Bayern Munich declared an interest and tried to sign him from Chelsea.
There was a long transfer chase, England recognition, a change of heart, and the appeal of a new manager and lucrative contract at Stamford Bridge.
But there have been struggles, too: a serious injury, the long haul back to fitness, inconsistent form and only one top-flight goal amid soaring levels of expectation.
The 19-year-old returned from this season’s winter break with a hamstring strain, has not appeared since and was the first Premier League player to test positive for coronavirus as the campaign was suspended on March 13.
And now a rape investigation after he broke lockdown regulations to invite a model to his flat in south London in the early hours of Sunday.
He is not expected to be training on Tuesday when Frank Lampard’s players return for the first time to step up their fitness work in small groups with a view to Project Restart.
The investigation will take its course but a difficult season for the teenager has taken an unpleasant twist and a ball has not been kicked for more than two months. Lampard, not immune to off-field mistakes during the early phase of his own playing career, demands high standards of conduct from his players – as does England boss Gareth Southgate, who has seen Kyle Walker and Jack Grealish both caught breaking lockdown rules.
Sponsors will look on and frown. Boot brands including Puma and Under Armour have been locked in a fight with adidas for Hudson-Odoi, who catapulted to fame when Bayern tried to sign him from Chelsea with bids of up to £30million in January 2019.
His Chelsea contract was running down at the time and he was reluctant to sign another one because of the limited first-team opportunities he was getting.
He sparkled in training but could not convince Maurizio Sarri to give him more competitive action. Chelsea fans, desperate to see academy graduates emerge, made their feelings known as the mood turned against Sarri. Hudson-Odoi was a hot topic.
In November, former Chelsea goalkeeper Rob Green told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘We were in the dressing room last season and the players were saying, “How is he not playing?” He was going out in training and tearing some of the best defenders in the world apart.
‘You knew by the way he spoke and the way he is around the lads and just the way he held himself and obviously his ability, he’s going to be at Chelsea for as long as he wants and maybe on to greater things.’
Green claimed Hudson-Odoi was a level above Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, two of the academy graduates to impress under Lampard this season.
Sarri was cautious, however, using him mostly in the Europa League and speaking of the need to see a greater contribution defensively. There was also Eden Hazard on the left wing. Southgate, however, showed no hesitation, handing Hudson-Odoi a first cap in March last year.
At the age of 18 years and 135 days, he was straight into the top 10 of youngest England internationals.
By the time Sarri was replaced by Lampard, there was a transfer ban and Chelsea’s best young players were needed to forge a revolution. Bayern’s interest had also cooled.
In April last year, injury halted Hudson-Odoi’s rapid progress. A torn achilles tendon would rule him out for five months. He recovered quickly and returned to score the seventh goal in the 7-1 thrashing of League Two Grimsby in September.
Six days before that Carabao Cup tie, Chelsea confirmed Hudson-Odoi had signed a new five-year contract, thought to start at £120,000 a week.
It was a coup to end a trend of youngsters leaving and reinforced the idea things would be different under Lampard – although the by-product of this deal was to set a yardstick for those charged with negotiating terms for Chelsea’s emerging talent. Abraham, 22 and enjoying a prolific season, is thought to be on around £50,000 a week. It is a lot of money but a fraction of what Hudson-Odoi takes home.
But Hudson-Odoi’s form has hardly merited the deal. He has found it hard to make an impact as he has fought back from injury. There have been flashes of his quality but he has been unable to force his way into the team like Abraham, Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Reece James have done.
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