When international football resumes in a couple of weeks, it will have been almost 10 months since the national teams last got together way back in November, at a time when the subsequent coronavirus pandemic would have seemed implausible to most.
Since then, football has been placed into perspective – domestic seasons paused or cancelled, supporters forced to watch from home, tournaments such as Euro 2020 postponed.
After waiting patiently for their resumption, international competitions will finally return in early September, with the 2020/21 UEFA Nations League taking centre stage in Europe. Gareth Southgate’s England will take on Iceland and Denmark in an away double-header and among the Chelsea contingent hopeful of making the squad when it is announced next week is Tammy Abraham.
The 22-year-old enjoyed a hugely impressive first full season on the senior stage at Stamford Bridge, scoring 15 goals in all competitions and assisting another three. His record of non-penalty goals per 90 minutes (0.61) was the sixth-best in the Premier League; fourth-best if you only include those to have started at least half the games.
It has clearly been a positive campaign then as Chelsea’s number nine and Abraham will be looking to build on that next term, for both club and country. He has strong competition at St George’s Park but it is the memories of special moments with England that continues to motivate the Londoner.
‘Something in my body was saying that it was going to happen,’ he recalls when reflecting back on his first senior call-up in November 2018.
‘The feeling of getting called up for England is massive because it means that you’re doing the right things and everyone knows what you’re doing.
‘It hit me on my first call-up. After growing up watching the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, actually being on the same pitch as them and training with them day-in, day-out was a mad feeling for me.
‘Times like that you never forget and maybe the younger generation will feel like that looking up to me one day as well.’
His senior international debut came in that window at Wembley against Germany, the culmination of a long journey through the ranks at Cobham.
‘I joined Chelsea at the age of nearly seven,’ Abraham continues. ‘I was at a local team in Greenwich, it was my mum’s friend’s team and I just went there, trained on a couple of days and they accepted me.
‘We started winning a lot of tournaments. There was me, Ovie Ejaria (currently at Liverpool) and Ebere Eze (currently at QPR) so there were a few of us there and it was good.’
Fast forward a decade and Abraham had made great progress, a prolific goalscorer in our junior teams. Unlike many of his peers, he chose not to join the Academy’s full-time school on site at the training ground but his potential was never in doubt by the coaching staff he worked with, even if he did take a little longer than others to sign professional terms.
‘I remember there were a lot of discussions about signing a professional contract because at that time I was still at school,’ he remembers. ‘A lot of the boys were full-time so they were at Chelsea the whole time but I was still at school and travelling in by train two days a week.
‘All the boys were offered their pro contract and I was like “I haven’t been offered mine yet!” My parents told me to be patient and I was one of the last people to get it but I was honoured. I had to finish school first but from there I just moved up.’
Shortly afterwards came one of the less cited but no less standout moments in Abraham’s youth career, an incredible Under-18 Premier League game at Cobham against Aston Villa, the club he would go on to join on loan just a few years later.
‘At that time, we went into games and tournaments with so much confidence,’ he claims. ‘The players we had were unbelievable players – Dom Solanke, Izzy Brown, Ola Aina, Charlie Colkett, Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter.
‘There was one game with the youth team where we were playing Aston Villa and we were 2-0 down. I remember our coach Joe Edwards, who is the current assistant at Chelsea now, was like “What’s going on? What are you guys doing?”’
‘We all just looked at each other and knew we had to turn it on. We came back and won that game 12-2!’
That was in October 2014 and 18 months later, Abraham was out on loan in the Championship. His maiden season at Bristol City was extremely productive, a 19-year-old scoring 26 goals in 48 games, though the year was just as much about the teenager developing off the pitch as on it.
‘I grew up at Chelsea winning a lot of tournaments but then you go out into the big wide world and everything is like “Woah!”’
‘I went into men’s football at 18 years old at Bristol City - living by yourself, learning how to become a man, all of that was brand new to me. I had to cook, to go to bed at the right time.
‘It was nice to have those experiences and being by myself was something I had to adapt to. Bristol City was good for me. It was my first loan, I was young and just getting game after game - that’s what you dream of as a kid.’
Subsequent loans at Swansea City and Aston Villa followed but it has been this brilliant season leading the line for Frank Lampard’s Blues that has really put Abraham on the map. The striker has spearheaded the youthful revolution in SW6 and wants to ensure this positive season is the start of something special, not just an outlier period to look back on fondly in years to come.
‘I want to look back on my career when I retire saying I left everything out there and I did the best I could,’ adds Abraham. ‘Of course, I want achievements like the Premier League, Champions League, World Cups, Golden Boots.
‘I have all of that on my radar but my aim is just to be able to retire and say I did it all.’