You may have seen the list of fines waiting for Chelsea’s first-team players should they step out of line this season. The document, signed by manager Frank Lampard, is pinned to a wall at the training ground and was leaked on social media. Late for a team meeting? £500 per minute. Phone rings during a meal? £1,000. Miss the start of training? £20,000. Agents are banned from Cobham, in-season travel must be signed off and “body composition targets” must be met. In the only comparison that can be drawn to the sort of fine you or I might accrue, the fee is doubled after 14 days unpaid.
All clubs have fines but Chelsea’s seem particularly strict, and at a time when the team is thriving on the pitch perhaps it gives a little insight into the kind of regime Lampard is running. He has backed a young core of players (only Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has fielded a younger starting XI in the Premier League this season, averaging 24.0 vs Brighton compared to Chelsea’s 24.3 vs Crystal Palace) who are so far responding brilliantly to their mentor, but what is clear is that beyond the touchline hugs and hair ruffles there are fierce demands and discipline, forming the kind of tough love that perhaps shouldn’t be surprising of an early-Mourinho disciple.
One of the beneficiaries of Lampard’s arrival is Callum Hudson-Odoi. The 19-year-old – and as he talked eloquently with the press at St George’s Park this week it was easy to forget he is still just a teenager – rose through the club’s academy before breaking into the first team two years ago, but he seriously considered a transfer to Bayern Munich last season as his opportunities under Maurizio Sarri were limited. Lampard persuaded him to stay with “one conversation”, Hudson-Odoi says, and despite competition from in-form teammates like Christian Pulisic, he has been trusted with more regular game time, playing 555 minutes already this season compared to a total of 1,107 under Sarri last year.
His close relationship with Lampard is one built on trust, but clearly that trust has to be earned. “We have a couple of fines where it’s very strict and we have to stick by it,” says Hudson-Odoi. “But even if there weren’t fines we would still be on point. All of us are on time with everything we do. If there is a fine we pay it, but we don’t really think about it. [Lampard] is hard on me, but it’s in a good way because he wants me to improve and keep getting better. The manager’s very strict on me but it’s always for a better cause.”
Lampard’s demanding style was evident in September when Chelsea beat Grimsby 7-1 in the Carabao Cup. Afterwards the manager criticised aspects of his team’s performance in front of the media, and he was no kinder in the dressing room, even if it was Hudson-Odoi’s first game back after five months out with an Achilles injury. “He wants to win in the best way, not just the result but with the best performance as well,” Hudson-Odoi says. “He told me at half-time ‘Cal, you can do a couple of things better’. He was a bit critical but what he did was helpful because now I’m trying to listen to him a bit more. He was telling me to get into more pockets [of space], run in behind defenders, make different angles. I was listening to him and thinking ‘When you go out in the second half, try and do that’. I tried much more and it was working, I was getting opportunities from it, so I’ve just got to keep listening and I’ll improve.”
His performances at club level have accelerated a return to the international team, and one of the possible effects of Raheem Sterling’s altercation with Joe Gomez is that, with Sterling dropped from the team, Hudson-Odoi may now get the chance to play in Thursday night’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley, where England have the chance to seal their place in next summer’s tournament. “If the opportunity comes and the manager does pick me, I’ll try to take it and do my best. Right now, I’m just working day by day, trying to focus on training sessions and we’ll see.”
This season could have been very different, of course. Hudson-Odoi admits he gave serious consideration to Bayern’s interest, but he knows that had he gone he would have missed out on the opportunity to play for Chelsea’s first team with the boys he grew up alongside in the academy, like Mason Mount, Reece James, Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori.
“I was thinking about it,” he says of Bayern. “Just because of times last year where I felt a bit of frustration or times when I wanted to play more. There were times where I was thinking ‘What happens if I do that?’ So I thought about it but at the same time I thought ‘This is my club, I love the club so I want to stay’.”
Hudson-Odoi may not be moving to Munich but there is still plenty of learning to do at home in London. “Last year when I started to play, when I was going to the shop or going to Nando’s I used to get a lot of people stopping me saying ‘Oh, you’re Callum Hudson-Odoi’, and that’s when I realised I’m becoming a professional footballer now, so I’ve got to be wary of where I go, what I do. Obviously it’s a great feeling for people to acknowledge you and know who you are and they’re getting to know you better, but I still want to remain humble because there’s a long way to go.”
It’s at that moment, just as the conversation is drawing to an end, that a phone rings. It is coming from the pocket of Hudson-Odoi, and he laughs and blushes a little as it’s jokingly put to him that the interruption would have incurred punishment under Lampard’s watch. “That’s a fine,” he grins. It is a little reminder of the expectations at Chelsea, set at the same high standards Lampard demanded from himself as a player. You sense Hudson-Odoi and the rest of the class of 2019 will only continue to reap the benefits, even if their sizeable bank balance takes the occasional hit.
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