Tammy Abraham is one of 38 players on loan from Chelsea but none has made a bigger splash. The 18-year-old is the Championship’s top scorer after two goals for Bristol City against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday took his tally to six in seven league games – eight in nine in all competitions. The future looks bright for a striker who scored 74 goals in 98 youth appearances for Chelsea and still enjoys kicking a ball around the garden of his family home.
It was at that house in Surrey where Abraham’s loan move was sealed. City’s head coach, Lee Johnson, encouraged by a meeting with the Chelsea technical director, Michael Emenalo, travelled to Epsom to convince Abraham’s mother, Marian, and father, Anthony, of his vision for their son.
“It was a relationship we built in pre-season,” says Abraham, who joined City the day before their Championship campaign began. “The manager came to my house, saw my family and I got to meet him then as well. That’s when he earned my family’s trust and my trust really. He told me about the stadium, the players, who I would get on with and it was from there I knew it was Bristol City where I wanted to be.”
Abraham joined the Chelsea academy at the age of seven and acknowledges the countless miles driven by his parents to and from the club’s Cobham training base and beyond. “After a while you have to start paying them back really for what they have done for you,” he says in his first national newspaper interview. “Luckily I have had parents who could take me places.”
Labelling Abraham’s journey as non-stop may be an understatement. Until recently he had not had more than four consecutive days off at any point over the past three years. After being handed his first-team Chelsea debut by Guus Hiddink against Liverpool in May, Abraham shone for England at the Uefa Under-19 championships in Germany before linking up with Antonio Conte’s squad on the pre-season tour of the United States. Abraham joined Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi as one of five strikers in Conte’s 30-man squad.
“I had just come back into England on the plane and the academy coach at Chelsea texted me to say I was going on tour with the first team in two days’ time,” he says. “I was excited, I thought I needed rest at the time but then I got out there and it was fantastic. It was a great experience for me, it was great to be with the new manager and his style of play and that really gave me confidence going into the season.
“Costa is a great character – not everybody gets to see his character but he likes talking to the young players as much as he can because he does not speak great English really. He does what he can to communicate with us and he’s a funny lad.”
Abraham counts Hiddink among those who have played a key part in his career, together with Chelsea’s development squad manager, Adi Viveash, and the under-18 coach, Joe Edwards, who keep in touch via WhatsApp as well as attending matches. “The coaches are texting us, calling us and visiting us to find out how we are. That’s really good for me because I know that somebody’s out there watching me.”
There is healthy competition between his Chelsea colleagues and friends Kasey Palmer and Isaiah Brown, on loan at Huddersfield Town and Rotherham United respectively, over the number of goals they score. But perhaps the most valuable shoulder to lean on has been that of the Chelsea captain, John Terry, the last player to break through the academy and cement a regular place in the first team.
“When I got into the first team they made me feel welcome and coming out on loan people like John Terry still find out how I’m doing and say well done after games, so you still feel really involved, even being in Bristol,” Abraham says.
“Players like John really care about the young players. He’s somebody who broke into the academy so he knows. As well as being a leader, he’s a good friend. I’ve watched him so many times and I have had great models like Didier Drogba growing up. I’ve been brought up in the Chelsea way and I’ve had to adapt too.”
Abraham’s packed schedule – described by Johnson as “80 games on the spin” – led to the striker being given 11 days off over the last international break. “I think it’s even more than that,” says Abraham, who was forced to pull out of Aidy Boothroyd’s England Under-20 squad with an ankle injury. “The last year or so, I have played quite a few games. I’ve gone from the Chelsea academy, to the first team, to England and then Bristol City. It’s been a lot of games.”
Remarkably, Abraham did not play football full-time until the age of 16. He was educated at the Pimlico Academy in Westminster and played football twice a week, plus a match on the weekend, while the bulk of his friends and Chelsea’s academy players enrolled in the full-time programme.
“It was something I chose to do,” he says. “It worked for me and it worked for my family. Even though I was not playing football as much as the other boys, I still think that I was coping well and getting a good balance. I enjoyed every minute of being at school. I was doing my work but still playing football. I knew I had to get my grades so that I could focus on football.”
Abraham has recently moved into an apartment in Bristol’s city centre, although he still likes to find time for a kickaround in the back garden of the family home, sometimes with his 15-year-old brother, Timmy, a forward on the books of Charlton Athletic. “I love doing that, when I’m by myself or with my brother, so that I can keep improving where I need to improve.”
City host Derby County at Ashton Gate on Saturday in search of their fourth league win of the season after surrendering a two-goal lead when losing 3-2 at Hillsborough on Tuesday. Abraham was the standout performer but Johnson was frustrated by others and may well have sent some players towards their smartphones as part of the debrief.
“We have an app where we can watch our clips, games and minutes,” says Abraham. “Even if you want to watch your opponents you can watch it on there, so it’s very beneficial.
“I’m really feeling at home in Bristol right now – it’s a great stadium and a great city. It’s a nice experience getting out there, meeting new people and getting to grips with the life of a first-team player.
The aim for this season is nothing less than promotion. We are going to do whatever we can to push to get promoted and get into that top six.”
Abraham’s upward trajectory is showing no sign of stopping and the teenager has a refreshingly healthy air of confidence. Can he be the one to buck the trend and hold down a regular place in the Chelsea first team? “Yes, that’s the confidence I have in myself and I know what I am capable of,” he says. “No matter where I am I know I have to keep trying my best.”
The Guardian Sport