Tammy Abraham is Chelsea’s leading marksman so far this season with 15 goals to his name but our number nine admits that the pressure of finding the back of the net has proved challenging at times throughout the campaign.
It has been a rollercoaster first full season in the senior setup for the boyhood Blue, who returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer after a hugely productive loan in the Championship, helping fire Aston Villa to promotion.
He reflects on some real low points this term, including what he labels as his worst moment in football after missing the decisive shootout spot-kick in the Super Cup final, but also assesses how the faith of Frank Lampard alongside his own strong self-belief got him through those tough times and has propelled him to play an integral role for Chelsea in 2019/20.
Before the look back, Abraham reports on being back at Cobham in the past week as Premier League measures have allowed a gradual return to training for him and his team-mates.
‘We’ve had some hard sessions but it’s good to be back and everything has been fine,’ he reveals.
‘Obviously we’ve been training in groups of three or four so we’re not used to that yet but hopefully in the next stage there will be more of us training together and better contact.
‘It has been tough,’ he says of the lockdown period, ‘but the most important thing is health so it is what it is. We’re back now and hopefully we’ll get everything back to normal soon.’
The pressures of top-flight football are plenty but it is perhaps the unique burden placed on those at the top end of the pitch that weighs heaviest. While other members of the team can get by with solid if not spectacular performances, strikers tend only to be judged on whether they have got themselves on the scoresheet, which is generally the hardest job in football.
Abraham talks openly about the striker’s psychology, initially reflecting back on his first Premier League experience on loan at Swansea City. He started 2017/18 in south Wales still a teenager and, after scoring four league goals by mid-October, netted only once more in the remainder of the season as the Welshmen were ultimately relegated.
In a side that created few opportunities, Abraham knew that if he didn’t take the first one that fell his way, he probably wouldn’t get another for the rest of the game.
‘When I was at Swansea, I had very few chances but if I didn’t take them I knew that was it,’ he admits. ‘That’s my only chance and I didn’t take it. It was hard to take. That season I lost a lot of confidence, I was beating myself up a lot.
‘It was my first Premier League experience and it was tough. We started off playing well and scoring goals but then it got to a stage where there was a lack of chances, we weren’t playing well, losing a lot of games. That was something I had to learn about really quick because it was so different from playing for the Chelsea youth teams.’
His self-belief was restored with a fruitful campaign in the Midlands last term, where his 25 goals helped Dean Smith’s side secure promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs, at the expense of Lampard’s Derby County.
‘I know my abilities and what I’m capable of doing,' he states. 'The next season, my plan was to remain in the Premier League but it didn’t happen that way. Thankfully, I went to a good club like Aston Villa, I could build that confidence back and do my thing there.’
His efforts at Villa Park proved enough to convince Lampard to hand him Chelsea’s number nine shirt in the summer and a return of 19 goal contributions (15 goals and four assists) in 33 appearances has vindicated all concerned.
However, with question marks hanging over him in the early weeks of the season, Abraham admits he ended up doubting his own ability, not least after missing the decisive penalty in the Super Cup final shootout.
‘The season before at Villa, I had only missed one out of eight or nine so I had confidence,’ he explains. ‘I remember walking up and the pressure got to me, nobody had missed up to that point so I knew I had to score.
‘I had what I wanted to do in my head but I changed my mind when I was taking the run-up. Afterwards in the changing room, everyone came round me saying “don’t worry, it happens to the best players” but at the time I just didn’t want to hear it. I wanted everyone to leave me alone, I was in tears.
‘I lost a lot of confidence after that. I was doing well on my loans but when I came back to Chelsea, it just wasn’t working – I couldn’t get my first goal, I couldn’t do anything. In my head I was wondering if it was worth all the stress because I was getting abused on Twitter, a lot of racist comments, people saying I wasn’t good enough to be playing for Chelsea. It was the biggest down in anything I’ve done in football.’
Fortunately, the 22-year-old kept working and Lampard kept faith in him. He started 10 days later away at Norwich City, opening his account for the club with the first and second of seven goals in three games.
‘In my head, I knew that if I didn’t score then it could be my last starting chance gone,’ he says of the build-up to that game at Carrow Road. ‘When I scored, the emotions just got to me. I ran over to the manager and I was thinking “I’ve just scored my first goal for Chelsea!”
‘That’s when the confidence started to come back. I scored the winner in that game as well so from there the confidence came back gradually. The Chelsea fans started to believe in me and I could kick on.
‘As a striker, you need to believe in yourself and have that confidence. Being Chelsea’s number nine, you’ve got big boots to fill so I need to believe that I’m the man, that I can score and do well for the team. You need that feeling going into every game.’
Blues fans will be hoping Abraham still has that feel-good factor when the Premier League resumes next month.