Interview

Abraham discusses football’s return, his highlight of the season and being inspired by Michael Jordan

Our number nine admits he couldn't have asked for a better start to his Chelsea career and he is eager for the campaign to continue, although only once the health pandemic has been contained...

Tammy Abraham is desperate for football to return as much as anyone so he can continue what has been a brilliant breakthrough season in the Chelsea senior side, though he also knows more than most the risks associated with restarting before the health pandemic in the UK is properly contained.

The 22-year-old had notched an impressive 15 goals in 34 club appearances before the football season was prematurely curtailed at the start of March, helping Frank Lampard’s side maintain their position in the Premier League top four and progress to the latter stages in both the FA Cup and Champions League.

There have been plenty of individual standout moments so far, however one sticks out for rather personal reasons.

When Abraham squeezed the ball through the legs of Bernd Leno at the Emirates a few days after Christmas to complete our comeback and secure three points in north London for the second time in a week, he ran to the travelling Chelsea supporters in delight but he admits he also had family on his mind in those mad moments of celebration.

‘I’ve had a few highlights,’ he said this week when reflecting back on his season so far. ‘I scored my first goal for England, my first Premier League hat-trick and I scored against Arsenal. That’s my biggest highlight because my family grew up being massive Arsenal fans and to score against Arsenal is a dream come true for me.

‘I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my Chelsea career. I have to give credit to my team-mates and obviously the manager, who has showed massive belief in me as well.

‘I miss football,’ he continued. ‘I just miss scoring goals, seeing the fans and being with my team-mates, having a smile on my face. If it’s safe to do so, I want to finish the job. If not, then we go into the next season.’

The subject of when it might be safe to resume the Premier League campaign has been debated across the country in recent weeks, from football-mad households to executive board meetings. Abraham has a greater vested interest than most players as his father, who he lives with, is asthmatic and therefore is included among the vulnerable group most susceptible to suffering from COVID-19.

‘Everyone can see what’s going on in the world,’ said our number nine, when asked to reflect on the decision on whether and when to resume. ‘Everyone wants to come back to football. I love football. It was my first full season at Chelsea, I was having a great season and I would love it to continue.

‘The most important thing for me is for everyone to be well and safe, and for things to start opening up. Then by all means football can always come back. If it’s safe to do so then let’s do it but if it’s not then we will wait.

‘My dad has asthma so if I was to return to the Premier League and, God forbid, I do catch this disease and bring it home then it’s the worst thing possible. The last thing I need is to catch the virus myself or be in contact with anyone with the virus.

‘If the Premier League does come back, I don’t know what I’d do, but the hotel could be an option, to self-isolate away from my family. I’ve got my dad’s full support for going back - he’s one of my biggest fans!’

Abraham has been keeping physically active at home, training and playing football with his brother Timmy, a fellow professional on the books at Fulham. His bold self-confidence and infectious love of the game gives him the belief that he could be back playing within days, though he admits that enthusiasm will have to be tempered by the reality of readjusting to the demands of high-intensity football.

‘I’ve stayed in good shape,’ the striker reports. ‘I’m a young lad and I don’t feel I ever lose fitness. If there was a game tomorrow, I’d say I’m ready but I know a 90-minute game is different to going on the bike and doing 20 minutes or 30 minutes outside running. The tempo is different. You need a few sessions.

‘There’s a lot of competition,’ he says of working with his younger brother. ‘We spend time together in the gym and play football together in the garden. We’re working on our technique and first touch. He’s 19 and working much harder than I did at his age but he has a long way to go. He doesn’t beat me on the teqball table [a combination of football and table tennis]. He doesn’t even come close!’

Another way of passing the extended time indoors has been watching films and TV series, including the popular Netflix basketball documentary The Last Dance. Featuring exclusive access to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls team in their late 1990s heyday, the series has fascinated sports fans and professionals alike with its insight and extraordinary access to such an iconic athlete in his prime.

Abraham has been able to draw some similarities to his own experiences, particularly the motivational techniques used by the six-time NBA champion in continually bettering his best and fighting back from adversity.

‘It’s incredible,’ Abraham claims of the documentary. ‘Watching this motivates me and there’s one thing that caught my mind.

‘Michael Jordan lost a game and he made up things in his head about what someone said to him. That person didn’t actually say it but he used that to go into the next game and to drive him on to be the best.

‘The incident did happen against Liverpool where I missed a penalty [in the Super Cup final] and received a lot of abuse and for me it’s just like Michael Jordan, it’s about coming out and proving them wrong.

‘My dad spoke to me and he said, “I know you’ve watched Michael Jordan and you’re motivated to go back to football. When you are ready, just go out there and do the best you can.” It’s about being at this club, being the striker and being the main man.’

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