‘I’d recommend it’: England’s Tammy Abraham revitalised by move abroad

Tammy Abraham picked up his phone. The voice on the other end was familiar, distinctive and it got straight to the point. José Mourinho tends to operate this way. “He was like: ‘Do you want to enjoy some sun or stay in the rain?’” Abraham recalls, with a smile.

Mourinho could highlight the good weather of Rome but the sales pitch worked on an altogether deeper level. Did Abraham want to move on from the gloom of Chelsea? Because, if facts were to be faced, there had been quite a lot of it in previous months.

“My mindset was that I wanted to be in the Premier League and I wanted to stay here – it was home,” Abraham says. But Mourinho had stirred something in him, he had spoken to his spirit of adventure. Before long, a summer transfer to join Mourinho at Roma was the only thing Abraham wanted. And he has barely looked back after completing it.

Abraham has started in each of Roma’s seven Serie A games, five of which have ended in wins, scoring twice and providing three assists. He has chipped in with two more goals in the Europa Conference League and these numbers have prompted the England manager, Gareth Southgate, to recall him for the World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary.

When Abraham talks now, it is of new cultures and challenges – on and off the pitch – and how he is determined to wring every last drop out of his talent. “I want to be in the names of the best in the world when they’re ranking the strikers,” Abraham says. “That’s my aim and I won’t stop until I’m there.” But there is no doubt that the frustration of how it ended for him at Chelsea is a motivating factor.

When Abraham scored a hat-trick in Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Luton in late January he could not have imagined how the next four months or so would pan out. Frank Lampard was sacked and the new manager, Thomas Tuchel, simply did not see a space for Abraham.

Tuchel used him in only seven games, starting him only three times in the Premier League and substituting him at half-time in two of them. In the other, Abraham limped off after 20 minutes. When the biggest matches were played at the end of the season – the FA Cup and Champions League finals – Abraham was not even in the squad.

“It was tough,” Abraham says. “I didn’t really understand it back then. I was scoring goals, I came off the back of a hat-trick and, of course, when a new manager comes in things change. I think things like this need to happen to you for you to really realise what the game’s about. You can’t always be on the up. You need some downs sometimes and those downs have really lifted me and pushed me to be hungry for more.”

With England, it is hard not to see Abraham’s Covid breach from October last year as having damaged his prospects. He was dropped after breaking the rule-of-six in force at the time, having partied at a birthday bash thrown as a surprise for him, and he watched Dominic Calvert-Lewin come in, score on his debut against Wales and push him down the pecking order. Although Southgate did pick Abraham the following month, it would be the last time until now.

“I got to a point [at Chelsea] where I had to sit down and talk to myself,” Abraham says. “I was going out to train and I was doing it for me. I was going to train to better myself because it’s easy to throw a strop, to be angry around the place, to be a bad egg. For me, it was the opposite. I learned about myself and I think that strengthened my mindset.”

Abraham admits that it was difficult to watch England’s run to the Euro 2020 final from his sofa although, by then, it had long been obvious that he would not be a part of it. What he wants is to continue to improve under Mourinho – he says he has learned “as much as I have in my entire lifetime” from the manager tactically – and to push his international claims, with the World Cup a little over 12 months away.

“The easy option would’ve been to stick around and sit down at Chelsea,” Abraham says. “I realised I needed to go out and prove myself. Of course, there were nerves and changing countries is always a brave thing to do. But I’d recommend it to young English players. I’d say not to be scared. You learn about yourself. It’s tough but I’m getting used to it. I’ve gone to Rome and it’s time to show myself again.”