Omari Hutchinson: Chelsea’s futsal king who captured Pele’s heart
New Chelsea signing Omari Hutchinson has made a habit of grabbing people’s attention during his young lifetime; after all, not many people earn praise from Pele for their footballing ability at the age of 12.
But that is exactly what happened to Hutchinson when he became an internet sensation thanks to his remarkable ability with the ball and penchant for jaw-dropping skills.
The 18-year-old was the star of a video which went viral online alongside the F2 Freestylers, with football fans from across the world stunned to see someone so young doing tricks that would cause a Twitter meltdown if pulled off by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Hutchinson was catapulted to fame during a Pele Tournament, which saw sides from around the world descend on south London to take part in a competition which was hosted by one of the greatest players of all time.
“We finished the tournament and all the teams came round in a huddle, and the F2 Freestylers came out and started showcasing their skills,” Hutchinson said during an interview with Goal in 2021.
“They asked one member from each team to come out and do a skill and all the boys were saying ‘Go on Omari, go on!’
“So I went up there and did it. They gave me the ball and I just started doing my skills. When we got a picture with Pele afterwards, he said something like ‘That was amazing’ in his Brazilian accent.
“Then later on that night, Jeremy Lynch from the Freestylers called my mum and said he wanted to do a video with us. So I did the video and it just went viral from there.”
Even before wowing Pele, Hutchinson had been honing his skills by embracing futsal, the small sided-game which is played so widely in South America.
“I used to do it every day after school,” he told Goal. “It was just easier and enjoyable. The coaches just said do all the skills you want.
“You had the freedom 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 it has come from futsal. But also when I was younger, I used to do skills in my front room, in my garden and in my kitchen.
“Straight after school, I would get changed and do skills. I loved it.”
But skills alone do not make a footballer great. Many players, from Freddie Adu to Josh McEachran, have failed to live up to their youthful promise while Chelsea have spent the last two summers shedding most of their academy products.
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Even so, Thomas Tuchel didn’t turn down the chance to take Hutchinson from Arsenal to Stamford Bridge. Some would say he couldn’t turn down that chance.
Why? Because he’s the teenage equivalent of fellow Chelsea summer signing Raheem Sterling; strong, fearless and possessing a keen eye for goal.
Seventeen goals and 16 assists for the different youth teams at Arsenal over the past three seasons show that Hutchinson definitely knows how to score and provide chances for his team-mates.
Meanwhile, his quick feet and balance have become central to his footballing identity, allowing him to flourish in tight spaces in ways English midfielders just aren’t supposed to do.
His goal against Woking this month, his last in an Arsenal shirt, exhibited all that is glowing about his game; the delightful flick, instinctive turn and dictating exactly where he wanted the ball before lashing his shot into the bottom corner.
Chelsea knew exactly what they were signing; a crafty operator who can bamboozle defenders and make pawns of the other 21 players on the pitch.
Omari Hutchinson’s goal a week ago for Arsenal in pre-season… 👀 pic.twitter.com/RjGKjZTaF7
— Felix (@CFCFeIix) July 15, 2022
But, above all, Hutchinson is a pain in the arse for opposition defenders and possesses the mentality of an elite forward.
“The mentality is a lot more demanding, you have to think quicker, you have to 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 has really helped me mature as a player. I think even in training sessions when I lose the ball, my reaction, I don’t moan. You just have to get on with it and focus on perfecting the next pass.”
His development was rewarded with a place on the Arsenal bench for their FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest and the exposure to first-team life at the Emirates helped Hutchinson stand out from his peers at youth level.
Just days after the Forest game, Arsenal hammered 4-1 Chelsea in the EFL Trophy with Hutchinson running the show from midfield and scoring one of the best goals you’ve never seen.
Receiving the ball on the right flank, Hutchinson travelled with the purpose of a rush hour commuter – jinking past bodies and striding forward with speed – before unleashing a gorgeous curling effort that was met with whooping delight from those in attendance.
And his somersault celebration revealed a showman-like quality that will serve Hutchinson well as his profile continues to grow.
Omari Hutchinson goal v Chelsea last season. 💥pic.twitter.com/Io5bStAGr6
— TheSecretScout (@TheSecretScout_) July 15, 2022
Not that Kevin Betsy, the manager of Arsenal’s Under-21s, was surprised by Hutchinson’s contribution that evening.
“He’s very intelligent,” Betsy told The Athletic afterwards. “He had a couple of moments when he stayed on the ball a bit too long and got caught, but I was so pleased for his goal.
“He was coming off at 60 minutes, he knew that, and then to score just before coming off, that was fantastic for him and he deserves it. He created a lot of havoc in the final third for us.”
It’s no wonder Chelsea are happy to have nabbed such a hot prospect. “We are delighted that Omari has agreed to sign for Chelsea,” head of youth recruitment Jim Fraser revealed.
“He is a brilliant addition who joins us as an exciting emerging talent hoping to make a quick impression in the senior game.”
And, with his futsal grounding and skills that earnt the acclaim of Pele, don’t be surprised to see Hutchinson make the grade at Stamford Bridge.
By Michael Lee