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Callum Hudson-Odoi exclusive interview: Chelsea winger on Bayer Leverkusen loan move, injury issues and his future

In this exclusive interview with Sky Sports, England international Callum Hudson-Odoi discusses his new life in Germany on loan at Bayer Leverkusen, the challenge of overcoming his injury problems, and what the future holds for him at Chelsea

Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi is on loan at Bayer Leverkusen
Image: Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi is on loan at Bayer Leverkusen and looking to find his best form

For Callum Hudson-Odoi, his loan move to Bayer Leverkusen was always about playing football and he knows that this is how his time in the Bundesliga will be judged. But there are more minutes in the day than the minutes on the pitch.

This is the story of a man living abroad for the first time, a man leaving home for the first time. "The first time actually ever leaving London, experienced another country, another culture, another environment," Hudson-Odoi tells Sky Sports.

"When you come out here it is the more the fact that you do not know the country, the city. I am in London every day so I know my way around London. I know where to go for dinner, I know where to go to chill and relax and I know where to go to the movies.

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Callum Hudson-Odoi on the differences between the Premier League and the Bundesliga

"It is like you have to be more responsible for yourself because you are here basically by yourself, having come from the UK to work and train every day. I think it is a good thing and a lesson for me to understand things somewhere else. I am enjoying it."

He is living in Cologne, trying to take it all in. "The other day I was walking around and I saw the lock bridge." Over 40,000 padlocks decorate the city's Hohenzollern Bridge, so-called love-locks placed there by couples symbolically immortalising their relationship.

"I thought, 'This is something new, I have not seen this in London.' Just different sights to see, different food places and stuff, seeing different people, seeing different places."

His time in Germany is expected to be more temporary, locked in only until the end of this season. Chances at Chelsea were limited. Omitted from the squad for the first Premier League game of the season, he felt compelled to seek opportunity elsewhere.

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"It was good for me to just get out and enjoy myself and play football again as much as possible," Hudson-Odoi explains.

"What everybody was saying to me about the project, it sounded great. A different place, a different country."

He felt wanted.

"It is a very friendly club, very nice. The staff, all the players, everybody around the place. They welcome you, they make sure you are comfortable as soon as you come in. That is what they have done with me from the first day I came here."

But it has not been so straightforward. A poor start to the season in which Leverkusen won only one of their first eight Bundesliga games left last season's third-placed team in the relegation zone and resulted in the departure of head coach Gerardo Seoane.

Hudson-Odoi, now 22, has had to adjust to a new way of playing - a new way of training, even. "Training here is much more difficult so I go back home and have a big nap, a big sleep back home to recover and rest," he says, laughing. The games are different too.

"One second you can be defending and then all of a sudden you are through on goal. It is so quick. It is more of a counter-attacking way of playing compared to in England, where it is more defensive and about compactness and playing through to get through to goal.

"Here, it is end-to-end so quick. It is basically good for fast players because if you are quick there is always a chance to get through and be one on one, assisting a goal or whatever it is. There is always that high line with the space to run. That is the difference."

Leverkusen's Callum Hudson-Odoi reacts after scoring a goal that was disallowed during a Champions League group B soccer match between FC Porto and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Luis Vieira)
Image: Callum Hudson-Odoi is enjoying the challenge at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga

Not missing those deep defences he faced at Chelsea, then?

"Sometimes it was annoying when you are trying to get the ball and drive and have space to run into, they are always so deep. I think here it is a bit more enjoyable because you have the freedom to have space on the ball and try to drive and create problems."

Hudson-Odoi driving at a defence can be one of the more thrilling sights in football. In 2019, aged 18, he became the youngest man to debut for England in a competitive international, breaking a record set by Duncan Edwards in 1955. Bayern Munich wanted him.

But an Achilles injury the following month had serious consequences - consequences that continue to be felt. "The injury was years back but I still feel like at times there is still a thing where it niggles and gives you problems sometimes," he admits.

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Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi discusses his injury struggles at his parent club

"It had a big impact on me. Even other parts of my body. For example, you try to compensate for your leg so you use other parts of your body so that you do not use your Achilles as much.

"Then you start to get other niggles somewhere else.

"The injury is a thing where it happened years ago but it is always going to be at the back of your mind regardless of what you are doing. I try not to think about it as much as possible. I just play my football, do the best that I can. You just want to play your football."

He feels that is happening again now. Encouraged by new head coach Xabi Alonso, he is trying to influence games more, be more positive in possession, get back to the game that made him so special. "The last couple of seasons I was not so direct," he explains.

"So I felt I could be more direct on the ball, try to create more problems for the defence. This season, I have had that feeling of getting back to my sharp feeling and causing problems, taking on people, trying to create chances, trying to get goals and assists."

He talks of "getting the momentum of me feeling myself again" and he has had his moments in a Leverkusen shirt. His Champions League goal against Atletico Madrid in October helped knock out Diego Simeone's side on a dramatic night in the Spanish capital.

tletico de Madrid goalkeeper (C) Leverkusen player Hudson-Odoi (R) score goal. Atlético de Madrid vs Bayer Leverkusen Champions League soccer match on matchday 5 of 6 held at the Civitas Metrpolitano stadium in the capital of the Kingdom of Spain. Final score tied at 2.
Image: Callum Hudson-Odoi scoring for Bayer Leverkusen against Atletico Madrid

"Not just that I scored. Just how the game was so intense." Atletico missed a stoppage-time penalty. "For them, they had to win. There was a ricochet and then it was over the bar. Everything was so crazy. That is definitely the best moment I have had here."

The Leverkusen fans have helped.

"I said before I even came that the fans here are crazy. I was watching the game and saw how the fans are always jumping. Every time I play here," he says, glancing towards the pitch, "it is always packed, everyone smiling and laughing. The fans are bubbly."

Now, the aim is to finish strongly. For those fans and himself.

Five Bundesliga wins in a row under Alonso either side of Christmas helped. "We know that we started a bit badly and we knew that we had to kick on to get back into a good position where we know we can be. We want to keep pushing and finish as high as possible."

08 October 2022, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Soccer: Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen - FC Schalke 04, Matchday 9, BayArena. Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso (l) gives Callum Hudson-Odoi instructions.
Image: Xabi Alonso is encouraging Callum Hudson-Odoi to drive at defences more

And his own targets?

"Finish the best that I can really and push myself to the max," he adds. "I wanted to come out here and get minutes into my legs and just enjoy football really as much as possible. I think that is what has been happening. Now it is more focused on getting the numbers up with more assists and trying to create more chances for the team.

"I am definitely excited about the future."

Whether that can still be at Chelsea, it is unclear. He still has one year left on his contract and can only watch from afar as expensive signing after expensive signing arrives at Stamford Bridge. "I have not spoken to them much recently at all," he says.

"I am not there so seeing all these players going, there is nothing I can say or do. At the end of the day, I am focused on the club here and trying to help as much as possible here. Whatever happens in the future, I do not know. All I can do is focus on what happens here."

And stay positive.

"At the end of the day, you have got to keep positive. Always smiling regardless. No matter if things are going good or bad, you cannot stress about things. Also, when you are smiling you feel confident and good on the ball and off the pitch as well."

Watch Freiburg vs Bayer Leverkusen live on the Sky Sports App this Sunday; kick-off 2.30pm

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