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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Tammy Abraham: Boy to Man

Upon first sight last August, Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham looked exactly what he was. A tall, gangly youth who, like all young players these days, looked about 15 and far too youthful to be playing men’s football. Although he stood tall at six feet and four inches, he had a frail looking frame and the instant fear was he’d be swallowed up some of the meatier, cynical, battle-hardened defenders of the Championship.

And in part that was true. Pontus Jansson of Leeds and Matt Connolly of Cardiff in particular seemed to be able to grasp hold of him and keep him contained early in the season, but in around that he was nothing short of sensational in his first full professional season.

There were the goals, of course. 11 in his first 13 games which led him to win the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for September. 26 in 42 starts overall, including braces at eventual play-off contenders Sheffield Wednesday and Reading.

But the statistics only tell half the story in how he developed through the year.

Early on it was, largely, just the goals. Bristol City were using width well, getting in behind the opposition full-backs and pulling the ball across goal. Tammy was, invariably, in the right place at the right time. A decent proportion of his early goals were scored in this manner – simple enough on the face of each individual one - but a deadly pattern emerges when you see them all in sequence. His positioning within the six-yard box is a massive strength.

City were flying and Tammy was the talk of the town. Remarkable as it may seem given how they ended the season, Chelsea fans were taking to Twitter in droves to request him back to help their ailing league campaign under their then-maligned new boss Antonio Conte!

But as the wheels came off City’s campaign in spectacular fashion once the clocks went back, so the goals dried up for the youngster up front. Which came first is oft-asked amongst the Ashton Gate faithful, and it was probably a bit of both, but certainly City’s revised, more dogged style in the face of adversity meant Abraham was more and more isolated up front, and the chances dried up.

Through December and January in particular, he was often 30-40 yards more advanced than any team mate, all desperately sitting deep in a typically vain attempt to stop the flood of goals going in at the other end and it was a futile and fruitless task.

What happened then showed the mark of the man and why he leaves Ashton Gate with everyone convinced he can become a serious payer in the top flight.

Game by game he got stronger, more aware of his role. He visibly strengthened and held the ball up better as he was able to hold defenders off and started coming deeper and wider to get the ball and have an impact on the game. He encouraged his teammates forward, he grabbed hold of a vociferous fan-base, baying for the head of boss Lee Johnson, and regularly turned to them, pumping them up during games. 

He truly cared – this was no sojourn loan spell for Tammy, he clearly had a lot of feelings for the club, the city and the fans and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t for any other club and town.
He truly led from the front, as a 19 year old, largely on his own. He had clear respect for the club and the fans and his brief role in that history, but wanted to make his mark. His attitude towards City was summed up by going over and hugging a ballboy after scoring a goal live on Sky in an inspired 4-0 win at home to Huddersfield. He made that little boy’s night and endeared himself further to 20,000 home fans.

Referring back to the gangly perception, his footwork and skill on the ball is astounding to anyone seeing him for the first time – this is no Ian Ormondroyd (for those old enough to remember) – Tammy is a very talented footballer who happens to be tall and looks on the skinny side. He’s not a big target man although he’s learned to play with his back to goal, and he thrives in having quick, skilful players buzzing in and around him that he can play off, distract defenders from and plays a beautiful one-two at pace.

By the time a touch of consistency started to appear in the rest of the team, Abraham had grown into a front-man able to lead the line. Not yet with the strength of a Diego Costa, but with more about him that enabled him to give two defenders something to think about. He also started scoring different types of goals, as he worked out he couldn’t always get the six-yard box service he thrived on. The super-cheeky finish at Blackburn demonstrated the confidence he has and the class he possesses. https://www.fourfourtwo.com/news/video-chelsea-loanee-tammy-abraham-produced-a-filthy-finish-against-blackburn

A call-up to this summer’s under-21’s squad was an inevitability and he now has a chance to show how much he has developed this season. All his goals are here, if you want to see the man himself in action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zm0gFE4f_EA .

So, is he ready for the Premier League?

In my mind, undoubtedly. That doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily play all 38 matches or score 20 goals, but he’s ready for the chance to prove himself. He’s stronger, more mature and knows what his game is about more than he did a year ago.

If he can get the ball put in the right places for him then he’ll be there to tap in – a skill that’s harder than it seems, whilst his fancy feet will be tested much more by the better quality of defenders and he’ll need to learn when to try and when to play the simple ball back or inside.

But he’s an exciting talent, a great goal-scorer already and is surely an England international of the future. It’s just a matter of time.

As for his time at Bristol City? 

Well, he walked away at the end of season with a complete clean sweep of all club awards – from the main awards, the senior and the juniors – Player of the Year and Young Player. The last player to make such an impact in living memory was a certain Andy Cole. Whatever became of him?

The Exiled Robin

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