Tammy Abraham is in good company at the top of Italy’s top goalscorers list, and his achievements at Roma haven’t gone unnoticed in England.
If it’s fair to say that you can judge a man by the company that he keeps, then Tammy Abraham is in very good company indeed. He went into the Rome derby against Lazio tied with Gabriel Batistuta and Vincenzo Montella on 21 goals in their debut seasons for the club, but it only took him 56 seconds to surpass both of them.
And when things are going your way, they’re going your way. Roma’s first attack of the match had led to a corner on the left-hand side. Lorenzo Pellegrini’s in-swinging corner bounced down off the crossbar and onto Abraham’s leg, bobbling over the line for a record-breaking goal. Twenty minutes later he was at it again, scissor-kicking a firm ball across goal from Rick Karsdorp from close range to double their lead and almost put the game beyond Lazio with less than a quarter played. Six minutes from half-time, a glorious free-kick from Pellegrini put the result beyond reasonable doubt.
By the time of his £34m sale to Roma in August, it was clear that Tammy Abraham’s career had hit something of a crossroads. His initial period with Chelsea had only resulted in two appearances for the club, and with moves to Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa, it felt as though he may have hit the limit of his initial promise in the Championship. He returned to Chelsea after helping Aston Villa to return to the Premier League, but despite 30 goals in 79 games across all competitions, it was clear that there was no place for him in Thomas Tuchel’s plans. With a place in the England squad for Euro 2020 well beyond him, the move to Italy felt like a reset, though it had the potential to go very wrong.
Two-thirds of the way through his first season in Rome, the doubters have been silenced. Abraham’s goals have taken him to third place in the Serie A Capocannioniere table, with only Ciro Immobile and Dusan Vlahovic ahead of him. Esteemed company, again. And although Roma’s season hasn’t quite caught fire, he remains in with a chance of silverware, with a Europa Conference League quarter-final coming up against Bodo/Glimt, while beating Lazio put them above their city rivals in the league and level on points with Atalanta for fifth place and a place in next year’s Europa League. They have left it a little late for a tilt at a Champions League spot – they’re eight points behind fourth-placed Juventus with eight games left to play – but Europa League qualification would represent an improvement on last season.
Roma have had a bit of a rollercoaster ride this season. They started strongly, with three straight wins putting them briefly top of the table, but throughout the rest of the first half of the season they were a model of inconsistency, slipping to eighth place. And that inconsistency was perhaps best summed up by a striking run of results over Christmas and the new year, when they followed arguably their best win of the season, a 4-1 win away to Atalanta, by taking just one point from their next three games, including defeats against Milan and Juventus. The Juventus match – in which they led twice before losing 4-3 – seemed to sum up the inconsistency that had plagued their season.
But rather than being a match which put the seal on Roma’s ambitions, that Juventus defeat now looks like quite a different sort of turning point. Roma have been unbeaten in the nine league matches played since then, and Abraham has been absolutely instrumental in that revival. Furthermore, this hasn’t gone unnoticed back in England. Gareth Southgate has been sufficiently impressed by his progress in Italy to call him up for the national team’s forthcoming matches against Switzerland and Cote d’Ivoire.
One player who may well be watching the improvement of Tammy Abraham this season with interest is Marcus Rashford. He seems to have hit a wall in the development of his game at Manchester United and has arrived at his own personal crossroads. Losing his place in the England squad while Abraham remains may well start him thinking about stretching his own wings.
It remains the case that the uniqueness of Manchester United’s current situation makes predicting Rashford’s future extremely difficult (the club’s new permanent coach could like him and want to develop him in a way that United don’t seem able to have done over the last two or three years), but he could certainly be forgiven for wondering whether, if his time at Old Trafford is coming to an end, he would be better off chancing his arm abroad rather than elsewhere in the Premier League.
Tammy Abraham, meanwhile, can now head into the international break looking towards the future with optimism. There’s no question that the year or two prior to his departure from Chelsea stalled his career, whether we’re talking about his club game (where the idea did start to take shape that he may have been a flash in the pan and the arrival of Thomas Tuchel brought in a new coach that saw him as surplus to requirements), or his international game, when he was one of three players caught breaking Covid restrictions at a point in his career when he could ill-afford the slip.
But young people do make mistakes, and Abraham has faced up to his with maturity, accepting the need to reset and acknowledging his previous missteps. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen players from this country flourish abroad – Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund, for example – and it says something for the insularity of football in England that we welcome so many foreign players to these shores while expressing surprise whenever an English player decides to chance his arm abroad.
That young English players are breaking with this insularity and finding success says a lot about changing attitudes and also about the quality of players that the English game is producing right now.