Perhaps it was a glimpse of two very different Chelsea regimes in the space of one pre-season friendly. Their opening goal in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Arsenal came from Kai Havertz, the Champions League final scorer who has acquired a centrality to the Thomas Tuchel project. The winner, meanwhile, came from Tammy Abraham.
Abraham has a solitary competitive goal under Tuchel to his name, an FA Cup winner at Barnsley. He was Chelsea’s 29-goal top scorer for Frank Lampard. Few have symbolised the shift in eras and ethos more. Abraham did not even make the bench for the Champions League final. That Tuchel found room for two left-backs on it was a none-too-subtle hint to see his future elsewhere. The warning signs were already there: Abraham started two league games for the German and was hauled off at half time in both.
Sunday’s decider was a winner gifted by a defensive error, courtesy of Hector Bellerin, but further evidence of a predatory instinct. Abraham had scored at the Emirates Stadium in 2019 and 2020; his 2021 goal lacked the same significance but nevertheless helped explain why Arsenal are credited with an interest in him. Not that a move feels especially likely: unless Arsenal can sell Alexandre Lacazette, they lack both an obvious gap in the squad and, in all probability, the funds for a deal.
To look at Abraham is to see a forward who may be trapped by the impasse in the transfer market and by attaching a historic price and ignoring the deflationary values of players. Chelsea are a striker down after allowing Olivier Giroud to go to AC Milan. Without the desired flagship signing in attack, Abraham may remain as unwanted back-up, Tuchel’s last choice. Havertz is likely to get more game time as a false nine, Timo Werner may spend time in the middle of the attack to try and recapture his scoring knack. And then Abraham – or maybe even Michy Batshuayi – could be the marginalised deputy, summoned for the occasional substitute appearance or cup tie.
He is a player with admirers, but not at a mooted price of £40 million. West Ham have no striking alternative to the injury-prone Michail Antonio. David Moyes did not deny interest in Abraham in May but stated bluntly: “It would rule us out completely. We don’t have that money.” Moyes is a straight talker and nothing has suggested he was bluffing.
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Abraham spent a prolific season on loan at Aston Villa in 2018/19, scoring 26 goals. But even if they receive a windfall for Jack Grealish, there would be a limit to what they would spend on a centre-forward, given Ollie Watkins’ excellence in his debut year. Wolves are past suitors, albeit under Nuno Espirito Santo rather than Bruno Lage, but it is unrealistic any club outside the big six to spend £40 million on anyone.
Perhaps that sends him back into the cycle of loans many a Chelsea employee finds familiar; Abraham represents a guarantee of goals and, at 23, is easily young enough for the club to wait while the market recovers. But his plight feels a reminder that Lampard’s philosophy has not survived his sacking.
Maybe it was only the unique circumstances of Chelsea’s 2019 transfer ban that spared Abraham from life as a perpetual loanee anyway. Chelsea reaped a rich reward for their youth policy in Mason Mount and Reece James. But Fikayo Tomori has been sold, along with Marc Guehi, who might have been afforded first-team chances had Lampard stayed in charge. Callum Hudson-Odoi was repurposed as a left wing-back on Sunday but fell from favour early in Tuchel’s reign. And then there is Abraham, the scorer languishing in limbo.