Tammy Abraham has been reflecting on his time in claret and blue, as well as the influence on his fledgling career of John Terry and Frank Lampard, as we prepare to welcome Aston Villa to Stamford Bridge this evening.
Abraham spent last season on loan in the Championship at Villa Park, scoring 26 goals for Dean Smith’s side as they secured promotion through the play-offs at the expense of Lampard’s Derby County.
That May meeting at Wembley – Terry vs Lampard, Abraham vs Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori - featured many interesting quirks but the fact that Villa’s victory kick-started a chain of events that saw Lampard appointed as Chelsea head coach and Abraham retained as one of his centre-forward options in west London remains the most unbelievable for our young striker.
‘I’m still a bit star-struck sometimes,’ admits the 22 year-old. ‘It’s nice to have Frank as our manager because he’s been there and done it all. When he’s saying something, you know he knows what he’s talking about.
‘He’s a great coach as well. He always wants the best from us and he’s never one to hold grudges after a bad performance. He always wants to move on and be positive, which I think is the right mindset to have.’
Abraham’s first meaningful conversation with the new Blues boss sticks in his mind as he was asked to make a particularly important decision before he had even featured in competitive action.
‘We talked about the play-off final, just me giving him and Jody Morris a bit of stick, but our first proper conversation was him asking if I wanted the number nine shirt,’ remembers Abraham. ‘He told me to think about it and not to rush the decision but I had already made my mind up on the spot!
‘I heard a lot of things about the cursed number nine shirt at Chelsea but I was willing to take that upon myself and change it. It’s a dream come true for me and in the next 15 years I want to create a legacy so I can sit back when I retire and know I made myself proud as Chelsea’s number nine.’
His path to this point has been a decade in the Chelsea Academy followed by two Championship loan spells, sandwiched either side of a year in the Premier League at Swansea City. While that season in South Wales ultimately ended in relegation for the Swans, these were all experiences that have helped to mould the player and person Abraham is today.
‘It was part of my journey,’ he says of the loan spells. ‘I knew I wasn’t ready for the Chelsea first team at 17, 18, 19 years old so to go out there and experience men’s football, learn different traits and add stuff to my game was really important for me.
‘Bristol City [his first loan] was hard, moving away from home for the first time, but I needed it. I needed to experience what men’s football was like and going out there into the big, wide, scary world was probably one of the best things at the time for me.
‘You get to learn about the dark arts. There are things defenders do like little nudges or pinches in the back. At first I was thinking "what are you guys doing?" but when I scored it lifted me even more.’
He admits he was reluctant to return to the second tier last summer as he had the self-belief to stay and fight for a place in the Chelsea team. However, once the decision was made, he relished the responsibility of leading the line for a promotion-chasing side.
‘At the time, I was a little bit disappointed because I wanted to be in the Premier League. I’d dreamt about playing in the Premier League my whole life and I just wanted to kick on and have a second season there. I believed if I stayed I would get my opportunity but I had to go out there again.
‘I heard a lot of things about the cursed number nine shirt at Chelsea but I was willing to take that upon myself and change it.'
— Tammy Abraham
‘The transfer window was closed so the only options were the Championship or abroad. As soon as Villa came in for me, I didn’t have a second thought about it because they’re a massive club. Going back to the Championship, there was only one goal for me and that was to take this team back to the Premier League.
‘I’d love to play against them. Dean Smith and JT were massive for me in terms of getting my confidence back after a difficult period at Swansea – they brought that side out of me. I have to give some credit to Steve Bruce as well because he was the one who signed me. All my loans have shaped me to be who I am today.’
Terry took plenty of time to work with him on the training pitch, passing on all the experiences gained over his stellar 20-year career at the top of the game. However, Abraham recalls encounters with the former Blues skipper at the start of the decade in which an observant Terry watched his schoolboy games.
‘There was one game when we were playing in the Under-15s where he came over to watch,’ continued Abraham. ‘One of my team-mates whispered "John Terry is watching" and then everyone just wanted the ball! It’s nice when experienced and talented players like that come over to support the Academy and watch us play.’
A late decision will be made on Abraham’s involvement tonight after Lampard admitted in his pre-match press conference that the striker was still feeling some pain following the hip injury sustained in Champions League action against Valencia.
‘It’s improving,’ reported Abraham on the knock. ‘I’m still in a bit of pain but hopefully I’ll be back out there soon.
‘It was sudden pain rushing round my body so I was fearing it was something serious but thankfully it wasn’t too bad and the physios handled it well. In that moment, you’re just thinking "what have I done?"
‘When I’m not playing I’m the worst watcher, just jumping up all the time. It’s annoying when you can’t do anything about it because you just want to get out there and help the team as much as possible.’
Rest assured, Tammy will be doing everything he can to get back out on the pitch against his former side and help the Blues return to winning ways tonight.