Chelsea: Hudson-Odoi’s predicament highlights Mourinho’s selflessness

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Callum Hudson-Odoi of Chelsea during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 22, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Callum Hudson-Odoi of Chelsea during the Carabao Cup Third Round match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on September 22, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images) /

Callum Hudson-Odoi had his potential move to Borussia Dortmund blocked as the deadline closed in. This was after centerback Kurt Zouma was let go to West Ham United for £29.8 million and Tammy Abraham was sold to AS Roma for about £40 million. All of the above were players that were at the bottom of the pecking order in their respective positions. Hudson-Odoi though was not let go. Thomas Tuchel probably did not want to forfeit the possibility of having Hudson-Odoi on the bench when the Blues needed him. This is a bit selfish from Tuchel, but the German is well within his rights to refuse to let one of his players go, especially that late in the transfer window.

Abraham was more or less discarded pretty quickly, not long after the arrival of Tuchel. Zouma was used sparingly, making only 12 appearances out of 30 under the Champions League-winning manager. Hudson-Odoi made 18 appearances in all competitions under Tuchel and at some point, it seemed Hudson-Odoi was going to be a regular, then Tuchel just stopped playing him. It’s clear that Tuchel prefers other players, in forward positions and at wingback.

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There was talk about the youngster going on loan, but he said he’d rather stay and fight for his place. Chelsea played three matches in the new season before the transfer window closed and Hudson-Odoi quickly realized “fighting for his place” required being given a chance to, and those chances hadn’t come yet. He started trying to engineer a move then, but Tuchel seemingly deemed it too late.

Now if it’s clear Tuchel has other players he’d rather use before he turns to the Englishman, why won’t Tuchel just let him go to get the game time he needs elsewhere? Well, one could say it’s because players are not entitled to the club putting their (the players’) needs above its own. This is why contracts are signed, Tuchel prefers to have the option of Hudson-Odoi on the bench, even if he won’t use him, rather than not at all. Tuchel is entitled to that option too.

This means that it takes an especially generous and selfless manager to let go of a player that they know they won’t use, to let them continue their development elsewhere. Managers always want to have as many options at any given time as possible; of course, many of their options don’t like being just “options.” Jose Mourinho was honest with Kevin De Bruyne in 2014 by letting the Belgian know just where he sat in the pecking order. De Bruyne had come to ask for more game time, Mourinho let him know why he wouldn’t get more game time. He then offered a loan to De Bruyne, who refused and preferred an outright sale. Mourinho … agreed. At the time, many didn’t recognize just how big a gesture that was from Mourinho. Mourinho recognized the talent the young Belgian possessed, but he knew that talent needed game time to grow. The legendary manager knew he would be unable to provide that, so he opted to do without the option of De Bruyne in cup games and let him go develop.

Many things to note here. Mourinho gave De Bruyne reasons why he wouldn’t get game time. Some argue now that De Bruyne should have gotten more game time, however, that is irrelevant in the real world as hindsight is 20/20. Whether a player should be starting or not would not help their development, it’s whether they actually are starting. Ultimately, the manager makes the decisions and sometimes they’re unfair. Players cannot afford to get caught up in that, they have to move on—ply their trade elsewhere. De Bruyne did. Two years later, he was returning to the Premier League, this time as a most expensive player in Manchester City’s history at the time.

Revisionism and recency bias made fans vilify Mourinho for letting De Bruyne go, insisting that had that not happened, Chelsea would have had De Bruyne now. This De Bruyne. They wouldn’t, he would’ve been a fringe player and fringe players cannot develop with 13-minute cameos here and there.

Another thing to note is how Mourinho was heavily criticized for letting De Bruyne go, even though he offered the Belgian a loan and the player refused. Mourinho could have blocked De Bruyne’s move. He could’ve chosen to have De Bruyne as an option in dead rubber games. He knew though that De Bruyne knew what he wanted, and knew he wouldn’t be able to give it to him. The Portuguese manager let De Bruyne go and De Bruyne was then able to ply his trade in Germany. There, he caught the attention of Pep Guardiola, who was at Bayern Munich at the time.

Compare this to Hudson-Odoi’s situation and Mourinho doesn’t look quite like the villain anymore. Funny how that works. Many fans are heartbroken because they know that staying at Chelsea this season would do nothing for the youngster’s development. He’s only 20 years old, turns 21 in November. Many of the fans who vilified Mourinho for letting De Bruyne be sold are now clamoring for the Blues to allow Hudson-Odoi go on loan to develop. Many are arguing that Hudson-Odoi should be starting more games, but they’re forgetting that they don’t pick the lineups. Therefore, Hudson-Odoi cannot develop with minutes he’s supposed to get, he can only develop with minutes he does get.

Mourinho looked like a villain because he was willing to sell players he knew he’d use sparingly. For convenience, fans interpreted it as him not recognizing the talent of these players. Fans interpreted it as him seeing those players as not being fit for purpose. In reality, Mourinho recognized their talents, knew what they needed to grow, and put the players’ development above his own convenience. He didn’t have to, but he did and was vilified for it. In the opposite way, Tuchel has decided to put his own convenience above Hudson-Odoi’s development, he doesn’t have to, but he’s also not entitled to forfeiting his options so a player can develop. This, perhaps, should make people appreciate Mourinho’s De Bruyne decision more.

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