Interview: Callum Hudson-Odoi Talks About How He Started Playing Football, His Time at Chelsea, and More

Born into a family of passionate footballers, Callum Hudson-Odoi started playing football at a very young age. He was recruited early for Chelsea’s academy where he rose through the ranks and made his senior debut in 2018.

Now on loan to Bayer 04 Leverkusen, the winger says he is eager to play in the Allianz Arena and other famous Bundesliga stadiums, and looking forward to giving everything he can in the upcoming match against FC Bayern München, in order to secure three points for his team.

The Interview

When did you start playing football?

“I would say around when I was two years old. My dad and my brother were playing at the park, and they just brought me along with them, just to be involved and have fun obviously. I saw them playing and they looked like they were taking it very seriously. Because I was so young, I didn’t really think of it as anything. I think around that time I got the idea of football in my head. I just didn’t know what it was probably until I kept growing a bit older, I think at around five or six when I started playing in the Sunday League with the young ones. I would say at two is when I first started with my brother and my dad, but I think at five or six I got a bit more understanding of it.”

Can you explain Sunday League for us?

“Sunday football is when you’re like six, seven, eight and older, you play on the Sunday with the boys there, and you have a team, and I think from that age onwards I started really knowing more about football and wanting to be involved in football. For example, there was a league thing, where you were part of a team and you just play every Sunday just for fun, you know what I mean. It was just that sort of thing that we were doing every Sunday as kids and then I went on from there.’’

Your brother and father were both footballers as well. What is that like?

“They both played on a high level. For me, it was great to see. Especially watching my brother playing football when he was at Fulham academy. I was watching him playing games there, and my dad used to play in Ghana as well. I still see both at times playing their games, and I follow highlights from their games.”

Do you remember when Chelsea first contacted you?

“I think it was a game where I was playing for Charlton academy, at seven. We had a game against Reading, I played that game, and I scored like six or seven goals, and I think that Chelsea came to watch. From that moment they asked me to come down and play with them against Liverpool, at this time I think it was. My first time going there around seven, eight years old, and I think from then, they wanted me to sign, and I’ve been there since then.”

What were your first impressions of Chelsea?

“First of all, I noticed the environment. I went around the facilities and saw how big Chelsea’s grounds were. I saw the pitches they had, the car parks, where the first team would train, where the young ones would train, and the changing rooms, everything was completely different to Charlton at the time. When I first walked in there, I think I was just shocked and so happy to be there. Such a massive club, and I’m seeing new faces, and everybody wants to play for Chelsea as well or be involved in Chelsea. Massive club, massive everything there, and obviously it was a big achievement for me to at least get the trial and at least play with these players, and obviously when I signed it was more of a better feeling as well, so it was a big step up, to be fair.”

Was a big club like Chelsea intimidating in the beginning?

“I think as a kid, you have to enjoy every moment of football, or anything that you do because at the end of the day you don’t really know what you’re going to be doing in the next years. You don’t really know – you want to play football, but things might turn out wrong. I think when I was there for me it was more of a wow factor. I think at that age, everybody is looking at each other wondering if they have a chance. But then it got to a point where you start playing games with everybody, starting to know everybody, how they play, and you start to get familiar with everything around. So, it’s more of a fun thing.”

Do you still have friends from your youth academy days?

“At this young age, you don’t really know if they’re going to give you another contract or what’s going to happen next, so when some of the players don’t get a contract, sometimes they go to another club, or they just don’t keep in contact. I still have friends who I used to play with in the academy days and when I was young back then, and I still stay in contact with them, and they stay in contact with me. I think it’s good, just to know what they’re doing, how they’ve got on with their lives and how their career’s going. And the same for myself, it’s good to tell them how things have been. We’ll see each other when possible and see how things are going, catch up, but apart from that, we still try and stay in contact with everybody, so it’s good.”

Do you look back positively on your childhood?

“Yeah, definitely happy memories. I think everything went well, everything was good, you enjoyed all those years of playing football and still enjoy it now, so definitely good memories.”

Who are your biggest supporters?

“I think it is my whole family, to be fair. I think everybody around me was always pushing me and encouraging me, and always just trying to make sure I’m doing what I can to play football and enjoy football. For myself, it was definitely a thing where you didn’t want to play because you were forced to play, you played it because you enjoyed it, and I think those are the reasons why they saw me playing and they see that I’m always smiling and I wanted to play, so definitely my biggest influences in football.”

Did your parents make sacrifices to support you?

“My dad used to play football, so he understands, but my parents will do everything they can to allow me to play football. There were times when my dad would sacrifice his work sometimes to take me to training, in the evenings, or he would miss something just to take me, just to know that I’m enjoying myself. He wanted me to play football and be the best that I can be. It wasn’t really a sacrifice, but they were worried that I wouldn’t turn out the way I did.”

How would you describe the playing style of your brother and father?

“My brother was more of a striker, like a centre-forward striker, but he was quick. He was not as big, but he was slimmer, like a quick striker. And then my dad was a midfielder, so completely different positions than all of us. I think my dad used to be a box-to-box midfielder, going up and down, very good on the ball, off the ball, and my brother was more a quick, skilful striker who was very clinical in front of goal.”

Do you speak with Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho?

“Yeah, I speak to them half the time. Obviously, I used to play with Jadon throughout the years with England, and we were growing up playing against each other with Man City and Chelsea, and then through England as well. Obviously, Jude, I think I’ve played with him once before, but I’ve known them and trained with them for a while as well, so I know how they are, and I’ve spoken to them a lot about it so yeah, that’s how I know.”

Have they given you any advice regarding life here in Germany?

“I’ve spoken to Jadon, Jadon was asking where I was going to stay, and he told me that it’s nice around that area, not just around Leverkusen, but there are lots of nice areas like Cologne, Düsseldorf. He told me that he expects I’ll enjoy it because it’s a nice area to find food and do things in my free time. To be fair, I spoke more to Kai [Havertz]. Because obviously Kai has been here, and he was telling me a lot about the club and how things would be in the Bundesliga. So, I’d say I spoke to Jadon, but I spoke to Kai as well.”

How was your first impression of Kai Havertz?

“Everything was just positive. I think he was more determined to push me here than anybody! He was saying ‘Go, like why are you still here, just go and play your football, enjoy yourself, and obviously for me there was a thing where I was like alright, I’m going soon, so just wait, and he was like ‘No, get out, hurry up!’ But I think he wanted, because of how the club is and how he respects the club and how he’s been here before, it was more the thing where he was like ‘Listen, there’s nothing bad about the club, everything you’ll enjoy, they’re good people, they’re a very good team, they all want the best for each other so you’ll love it over there, just go over there and be your best and do what you can do’.”

Have you ever played with Jamal Musiala?

“I played with him once. I never played with him much through Chelsea because he was a bit younger, but I played with him through England once, U21s I think.”

What do you think about Jamal’s development as player?

“When he was growing through the academy days you would see him playing like a major talent and you wanted him to fulfil his talent and the prospect he could be. Today, watching him play, it’s good to see, and I am happy for him to see what he is doing. At the end of the day, he’s made a change to leave Chelsea to come to Germany at an early age and to try and play games and play football. He’s doing that, he has done well at it, so I’m really happy for him. Any team would be happy to have a player like him, the way he plays, he’s very silky on the ball, creates a lot of chances, and scores some as well. He’s doing really well, and hopefully, he continues.”

What about Jude Bellingham?

“I think everybody can see it with the way he plays, he plays really maturely, and obviously he’s very young, so the way he plays, it shows that he’s built and matured for his age, and the way his mindset is, it’s very good, he works very hard on the ball and he’s very good on the ball actually, dribbling-wise, defending-wise, tackling-wise, going forward, scoring goals, he’s a very all-rounded midfielder at the moment. He’s doing really well, and as I said, hopefully, those both continue.”

Are you happy that you have decided to join the Bundesliga?

“Yeah I think coming out here, my aim was to get as many games as possible and just build on the fitness that I haven’t really had in the last couple of seasons for Chelsea. Obviously, game-wise, I’ve been playing a lot here and I’m really enjoying it, I’m enjoying every moment of it. You want to be trying to help the team as much as possible, scoring goals and assisting goals, and doing whatever, even if it’s not scoring goals or assisting, just being influential in the team, and helping them. So, I’m definitely enjoying my football at the moment. I think it was the right time of my career to come and play here.”

How have you settled into life at Leverkusen?

“Everyone’s very warm-welcoming, I think everyone has a big smile on their face and they’re never down, even if the game doesn’t go the way we want them to, there’s not really negative energy. I think everyone is always positive and trying to react in the next game. Everyone has welcomed me well when I’ve come here, and it’s a good feeling around the camp, so it’s good.”

Given FC Bayern München’s recent form, do you feel you can snatch three points from them this weekend?

“I think, every game that we play, we want to try and get the three points and try and win the game. I think the way they’ve started might not have been the best way they wanted to, but at the same time, we haven’t started great either and we know that, so we’re definitely trying to take advantage of it, try and go there and push and give it something different than what we haven’t already this season and try and get the three points. It would be a massive game, a massive task, but I think that with the players that we’ve got and the quality we’ve got here, I think we have enough to try and push them and give them a good game, and try and even win the game, so I think we’re all confident, we’re all working really hard this week in training, and as I said, I think it’ll be a good time to go over there and play them.”

Do you personally know any of the Bayern players and if so, what kind of relationship do you have with them?

“Yeah, it will be good. I think I know a couple of the players there, so it will be good to see them. I think I know Jamal, Alphonso, a couple of them, so it will be good to see them, how they are and how they’re doing as well. And obviously, it’s good to play against them.”

Do you feel the extra pressure of playing in a big stadium such as the Allianz Arena?

“No, I think obviously, when you watch the games when you’re a kid, you always look at them and you think ‘I want to be playing in these sort of games, these massive competitions’, you want to be playing under floodlights, big crowd, everybody cheering and happy and it’s a good atmosphere, so I definitely think that it’ll be a massive game for us, we want to push and as I said, I think it’ll be a great atmosphere to be there, to play in that sort of stadium will be good.”

Have you spoken to Timo Werner since being in Germany?

“You know what, I haven’t spoken to him properly yet since I’ve been here. So, because you said that now, I’m going to text him after and say to him, has he learned how to cook yet? Because in England, I told him how to make steak, but I don’t think he knows still, so we’ll wait, we’ll see if he can do it. I told him how to make steak and he still got it wrong. So, I don’t know if he’s even learned how to make it.”

What are your thoughts on Timo from your time together at Chelsea?

“Funny guy. Very funny. He’s got a very good personality, very happy, very vibrant, very funny guy.”