Omari Hutchinson: Chelsea's futsal king who won Pele's heart

Omari Hutchinson: Chelsea’s futsal king who won Pele’s heart

Chelsea newcomer Omari Hutchinson has made a habit of attracting people’s attention at a young age; After all, not many people at the age of 12 get praise from Pele for their footballing skills.

But that’s exactly what happened to Hutchinson as he became an internet sensation thanks to his remarkable skill with the ball and penchant for stunning skills.

The 18-year-old starred in a video that went viral online alongside the F2 freestylers. Football fans around the world were stunned to see someone so young pull off tricks that would cause a Twitter meltdown if pulled by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Hutchinson rose to fame during a Pele tournament that saw teams from around the world flock to south London to take part in a competition hosted by one of the greatest players of all time.

“We finished the tournament and all the teams came around huddled together and the F2 freestylers came out and started demonstrating their skills,” Hutchinson said during an interview with Goal in 2021.

“They asked one member from each team to come out and do an exercise and all the guys were like, ‘Go on, Omari, go on!’

“So I went up there and did it. They gave me the ball and I just started showing my skills. When we got a photo with Pele afterwards, he said something like “That was amazing” in his Brazilian accent.

“Later that night, Jeremy Lynch from the Freestylers called my mom and said he wanted to make a video with us. So I made the video and it went viral from there.”

Even before he wowed Pele, Hutchinson had honed his skills by turning to futsal, the small-sided game so widespread in South America.

“I used to do that every day after school,” he told Goal. “It was just easier and more enjoyable. The trainers that just said make all the skills you want.

“You were free to just have fun. I used to watch a lot of Falcao, the Brazilian futsal player. He inspired me a lot.

“I’ve always been known as a little skiller. I would say half of that comes from futsal. But even when I was younger, I did handicrafts in my living room, in my garden and in my kitchen.

“Right after school I changed my clothes and did skills. I loved it.”

But skills alone don’t make a great footballer. Many players, from Freddie Adu to Josh McEachran, have not lived up to their youthful promises while Chelsea have spent the past two summers losing most of their academy products.

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Still, Thomas Tuchel didn’t pass up the chance to bring Hutchinson to Stamford Bridge from Arsenal. Some would say he couldn’t turn down this chance.

Why? Because he’s the teenage equivalent of Raheem Sterling, who signed from Chelsea in the summer; strong, fearless and with a keen eye for the goal.

Seventeen goals and 16 assists for Arsenal’s various youth sides over the last three seasons show Hutchinson definitely knows how to score and create chances for his team-mates.

Now his quick feet and balance have become central to his footballing identity, allowing him to thrive in tight spaces in a way that England midfielders simply aren’t supposed to.

His goal against Woking earlier this month, his last in an Arsenal shirt, showed all the glow about his game; the delightful flick, the instinctive turn and dictating exactly where he wanted the ball before whipping his shot into the bottom corner.

Chelsea knew exactly what they were signing; a cunning operator who can outsmart defenders and turn the other 21 players on the field into pawns.

Above all, Hutchinson is a pain in the neck for opposing defenders and has the mentality of an elite striker.

“The mentality is much more demanding, you have to think faster, act responsibly and do the right thing at the right time,” Hutchinson told Gaffer when asked about the transition to first-team training at Arsenal.

“To be fair, it really helped me mature as a player. Even in training sessions, I think if I lose the ball, my reaction, I don’t whine. You just have to keep going and focus on perfecting the next pass.”

His development was rewarded with a place on the Arsenal bench for the FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest and exposure to first-team life at the Emirates helped Hutchinson set himself apart from his peers as a youth.

Just days after the Forest game, Arsenal hammered Chelsea 4-1 in the EFL Trophy, with Hutchinson leading the show from midfield and scoring one of the best goals you’ve ever seen.

Hutchinson received the ball on the right flank and traveled with the intent of a rush-hour commuter – past bodies and forward with quick strides – before unleashing a magnificent curl which was met with cheers from those in attendance.

And his somersault celebration revealed a showman-like quality that will serve Hutchinson well as his profile continues to grow.

Not that Arsenal U21 manager Kevin Betsy was surprised by Hutchinson’s contribution that night.

“He’s very smart,” Betsy told The Athletic afterwards. “He had a few moments where he stayed on the ball a little too long and got caught but I was so happy for his goal.

“He came off after 60 minutes, he knew that, and then to score just before elimination, that was fantastic for him and he deserved it. He caused a lot of chaos for us in the last third.”

It’s no wonder Chelsea are happy to have landed such a hot prospect. “We are delighted that Omari has agreed to sign for Chelsea,” said youth director Jim Fraser.

“He’s a brilliant addition to join us as an exciting youngster hoping to make a quick impression in the senior game.”

And given his futsal fundamentals and skills, which earned him the plaudits of Pele, it shouldn’t be surprising if Hutchinson graduates at Stamford Bridge.

By Michael Lee

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