Leaving the reigning European champions is a huge call for any player to make, especially if they had been at the club since childhood. But for Tammy Abraham at Chelsea, the time was right.
Last season was the England striker’s last at the club where he had risen up through the academy and into the first team – but he had become a bit-part player under new manager Thomas Tuchel.
The German had masterminded Chelsea's Champions League victory just four months after replacing Frank Lampard, but Abraham didn't play a single minute in the competition under Tuchel and started only three Premier League games.
“Of course it’s difficult when you’ve grown up at a club and you’ve fallen out of favour. It’s never nice,” the 24-year-old told The Athletic, last month.
During the summer, Serie A came calling – specifically AS Roma and manager Jose Mourinho. Chelsea had just forked out £97.5million ($134.7m) to Inter Milan for Romelu Lukaku, and Abraham needed to feel appreciated again.
"You can sense when a club really wants you – and Roma made their interest clear immediately," said Abraham, after completing a £34m ($46.9m) move last August.
"Roma is a club that deserves to be fighting for titles and trophies. I've had the experience of winning major trophies and I want to be in those competitions again.”
The inaugural Europa Conference League might not be what Abraham had in mind, but the 24-year-old is one game away from sealing a place in the final and his contribution of eight goals in 12 games has been crucial to that.
Abraham returned to England for the semi-final first leg at Leicester City last week that ended in a 1-1 draw and sets up Thursday’s decider at the Stadio Olimpico nicely.
He has hit the ground running in Italy – scoring 24 goals in all competitions – and Abraham has cited three players that have been an inspiration.
“I’ve seen the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Mo Salah and Lukaku leave Chelsea and spread their wings,” he said. “They’re the best players in the world. For me, it’s about doing the same thing."
And spread their wings they certainly did after being allowed to exit Stamford Bridge by, ironically, Mourinho – big calls that the Portuguese has since insisted were the right ones at the time, pointing out the quality of players ahead of them in the first team queue.
“To arrive and have an immediate impact is not easy,” Mourinho said. “To come from different football cultures … that is not simple, either.”
Striker Lukaku spent full seasons out on loan at West Bromwich Albion and Everton before joining the Merseyside club permanently in 2014. "It is one thing to play for Everton and another thing to play for Chelsea,” said Mourinho after letting Lukaku leave. “There are no regrets."
Big-money moves to Manchester United, Inter and back to Chelsea would follow for Lukaku, who has struggled for form and fitness since returning to Stamford Bridge.
Playmaker De Bruyne left London for Germany – joining Werder Bremen on loan and then Wolfsburg in a permanent move in 2014 – before ending up back in England with Manchester City, winning trophies galore under Pep Guardiola.
Mourinho has been brutal in his description of De Bruyne during the player’s final months at Chelsea. “He was not ready to compete. He was an upset kid, training very badly. He needed motivation to train well by playing every game,” Mourinho said when the Belgian was closing in on a big-money move to City from Wolfsburg.
Like Abraham, Salah would head to Italy and Roma – via a loan spell at Fiorentina – to make his name but Mourinho insists he should be known as “the coach that bought Salah”, not the one who sold him.
“I played against Basel in the Champions League,” Mourinho told BeIN Sports in 2019. “Salah was a kid at Basel … I fell in love with that kid. I bought the kid. I pushed the club to buy him.”
Salah has also returned to the Premier League and, like De Bruyne, won many titles, scoring a remarkable 155 goals in 248 games since joining Liverpool in 2017.
Reaching anything like the level of those two superstars will be a huge task and Mourinho has been quick to remind Abraham that he is far from the finished product.
Abraham scored a match-winning double in the March victory over Lazio – becoming only the second Englishman after Paul Gascoigne in 1992 to score in the Rome derby – but his manager was still not happy. “When you say Abraham is fantastic, I disagree, he can do even more,” he said. “I demand a lot of him because I know his potential.”
But Abraham, speaking ahead of the Leicester first leg, is in no doubt that he in the best place possible to improve as a player.
“Jose is for me one of the best coaches to walk on the planet; he knows how to really drive you,” he said. “This is what I needed. He always wants more. For me and the players he is the perfect manager.”