In a special Access All Areas video interview conducted together as pre-season ramps up, Chelsea Academy graduates Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have been reflecting on the serious Achilles injuries they suffered within a few weeks of each other in the spring of 2019, the recovery process they undertook together and why they’re now feeling fully fit.
It was on Easter Monday in a home fixture against Burnley that Hudson-Odoi hobbled off, although the injury initially did not look too serious. However, scans revealed the winger had ruptured his Achilles tendon, bringing a very promising breakout season to a premature conclusion.
Not even a month later and another youngster flourishing under Maurizio Sarri, Loftus-Cheek, suffered the same fate during a charity fixture in Boston.
It was a devastating blow for both players, who knew they faced a lengthy spell on the sidelines at the very moment they were hitting top form in a Chelsea shirt.
‘It was crazy, when it happened to me firstly I think everyone on the pitch was confused,’ recalls Hudson-Odoi of the evening he got injured.
‘Even I was confused because I thought it was just a bit of cramp, but as I tried to come back on the pitch my leg was just flopping around so I knew then that I’d done something.
‘It was crazy that Ruben did it two or three weeks after me as well. This injury is not a nice feeling at all, it takes a long time to come back and feel yourself again, but now we’ve recovered well.
‘We’ve had a long time where we’ve built up well in the gym, we’re trying to run past players now and be more explosive, a lot of gym work and a lot of fitness work has helped us with that.’
Recovering from serious injury requires as much mental strength as it does physical rehab. Out of the depths of despair, there was at least small consolation they could initially recover in tandem.
‘It got to a point where we were doing similar things,’ Ruben remembers.
‘Cal was a bit ahead of me but the physio and the treatment was similar. Maybe it got to be a bad thing because Cal was progressing really well and I wanted to be right behind him and doing the same things, but sometimes it doesn’t work like that.
‘Mine took a bit longer and I had to be patient. I came out quite quick but then the transition from walking to running just took a bit longer.’
The pandemic gave Loftus-Cheek extra time to recover, and when football resumed in June 2020 he was in our first starting line-up against Aston Villa.
He also played at Brighton in our opening match of the 2020/21 campaign, before heading down the road to Fulham for a loan spell. His time at the Cottage proved productive as he racked up over 2000 minutes of football, including 30 Premier League appearances.
‘I thought it was the most important for me at that time,’ he says.
‘I came back from injury but didn’t feel myself, didn’t feel powerful, wasn’t running past people and felt like I lost a lot of muscle and power. So for me, mentally, I just wanted to go somewhere where I could play a lot and get that feel and confidence back after such a long time out with such a bad injury.
‘I felt like I had to get away and play as much football as possible, and I got that.’
Now Ruben’s focus is on reaching top form in a Chelsea shirt again. For Callum, it is making the most of a first proper pre-season in three years to ensure he hits the ground running when the competitive action begins in Belfast on 11 August.