Tammy Abraham has netted 26 goals on loan at Aston Villa this season and ahead of their play-off final against Derby at Wembley today we caught up with the striker to hear about his development in the Midlands.
The 21-year-old became the first Villain to reach that goalscoring milestone since Andy Gray managed it in 1976/77, receiving a special recognition award in the process. His goals helped fire Dean Smith’s side into the play-offs, where they edged past West Brom in the semis. Abraham scored a penalty in the first leg and then the decisive spot-kick in the return at the Hawthorns. The Wembley showpiece against Frank Lampard's Derby, and their Chelsea loanees Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount, starts at 3pm UK time today.
Abraham is a Chelsea Academy graduate who made his debut for the Blues in 2016 and has since experienced life on loan at Bristol City and Swansea, as well as winning two England caps. This season he has been the main man up front for Aston Villa, who charged up the table during the second half of a predictably competitive Championship campaign.
In a revealing interview he speaks to us about the areas of his game he has worked on, the physical and mental challenges he has faced, the prospect of a play-off final featuring a number of Chelsea players, and his continued aspirations to make the grade at Stamford Bridge…
First of all Tammy, how have you felt your season has gone on an individual level?
It’s been a successful season. I came here with things in mind to do: score goals, and help take a team all the way to the play-offs. That’s what I have done so far.
What areas have you been working on this season?
The main one has to be hold-up play. Coming into a league where it’s very physical, and there are very good teams in the league as well, sometimes the only option is to be a target man. I have been that target man for Aston Villa, even though growing up at Chelsea you’re not really a target man at a young age! You mostly have the ball on the floor.
I have taken that into my game. Because of my height and my appearance sometimes I have to become a target man. It’s something I have had to improve on and I think I have done.
Have you enjoyed that side of that game?
Yeah I have enjoyed it. I like to be physical sometimes. I grew up watching Didier Drogba, more recently Diego Costa, and learned how the best use their body and their brain. I like that. It’s not just ‘nicey nicey’ football – sometimes you have got to show the rough side of you as well, and show your strength. I’m a strong lad and I have to use that.
You’ve scored 26 goals this season, the first player to reach that figure at Villa in over 40 years…
It’s a massive achievement for me. I have scored more than I even expected. When I first came I said if I could get anything near what I got at Bristol City [23 league goals] I would be happy. I have smashed that and in fewer games too.
I have been working on my finishing, different types of finishing, one-touch, two-touch, heading. Surprisingly heading wasn’t my best attribute but I have worked on that in training and it’s paid off as I’ve got a couple of headers.
What has been your individual highlight so far?
The game I have to pick out is the one when I scored four goals against Nottingham Forest. I still don’t know how to describe that day! On a personal note it’s about self-belief, believing I can do it, I can score goals, I can help this game. When you have that self-belief anything can happen. To score four goals is very rare! I think they were the only shots I had all game!
You were named in the Championship PFA team of the season…
It’s a very proud feeling. It goes to show when you’re doing things right it’s not just you that knows, everybody recognises it. I’ve got to keep doing the right things and push on. I don’t want to be too comfortable, I want to test myself.
I like challenges. Going in to this season people were thinking if I could do it again or if Bristol City was a fluke year. I have gone and proven to everyone it wasn’t.
Has it been a bit different playing for a team challenging towards the top of the table after Bristol City and Swansea who were battling relegation?
It hasn’t been an easy road for us, but being in a team that creates chances helps. Last season it was hard and challenging, a different kind of challenge for myself.
Growing up in the Chelsea Academy you are guaranteed chances. At Bristol City I had one or two a game. At Swansea you might get the odd one but if you don’t take it that’s the only chance you have. Those situations are mentally tough, knowing you won’t get another chance if you miss. At Aston Villa I told myself I would get chances and I just needed to be in the right place to take them. Luckily my goals are helping and we have been climbing up the table which is a much better feeling.
Tell us about the management structure at Villa Park, which includes John Terry and manager Dean Smith…
Everything has their own individual part. Dean Smith works with the midfielders, John Terry works with the defenders and Richard O’Kelly works with the strikers. We always come together at the end and you can see each and every one of them has put something into positional play. They always combine it at the end, we put it together, and we always put in our ideas as well. It’s not just them feeding back to us. It’s the players as well, how we feel on the pitch and the right areas to take up. That’s always needed in teams.
You seem to have a great relationship with Villa’s captain Jack Grealish…
He’s a good lad. I played at England with him a couple of years back. He was like a big brother to me, and he still is. Him being captain is crazy at the age of 23. It’s a dream for him. He’s a fantastic player. I always tell everyone he is one of the best players I have played with, along with people like Hazard. He has the potential to be on that level. His dribbling, his vision for the game is unbelievable.
Villa embarked on an incredible 10-game winning run which transformed the season. What happened?
We have that self-belief. We knew we had a good team. We were just missing something at the start of the season and towards the middle part. All we needed was that push to believe in ourselves. We have always scored goals, but as a team we didn’t feel like we could not concede goals as well. The new manager played a part, John Terry helped the back four in training.
Everyone is trying to get on the same platform. It’s not just the back four defending, it’s the team defending, the way we press, it’s everything we put into training. Once the first win came and the second win and the third win, we all put our heads up and said ‘you know what, we’re actually a very good team’. That’s when we started to believe.
And now you have a final with Derby, Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount…
Haha yeah! I have been speaking with Fikayo over the phone, even before Derby’s game against West Brom [which they won to make the play-offs]. I said ‘you guys have left it til the last game!’.
Me and Fik said at the start of the season ‘maybe we can both be in the play-offs’, and we actually both are. It’s a dream to be in a play-off final against him after growing up together. And Mason as well. He’s had a fantastic first season on loan in the Championship. He’s smashed it. It’s nice to have the Chelsea boys in the final!
Does your goal remain playing for Chelsea?
Yeah. That’s the team I have grown up playing for and I have been at since the age of seven. Making my Chelsea debut was a dream come true, and I want that feeling again and again. That’ll be the aim, and fingers crossed I will achieve it.