Tammy Abraham might have been Chelsea’s saviour — a young forward who could have galvanised a club searching for answers as hopes of retaining last season’s Premier League title fade. But he can’t be. Not this season, at least.
Abraham, just older than Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, is on loan at Swansea City for the 2017-18 campaign, and the 20-year-old has scored four league goals in eight matches. His parent club Chelsea, meanwhile, are praying that a hamstring problem for Alvaro Mortata, one of only two main strikers in the team now Diego Costa has departed, will only be a short-term issue.
As Chelsea sit nine points behind leaders Manchester City, and seven behind United, Abraham’s exile symbolises the haphazard summer transfer business that took place at Stamford Bridge. That includes the club’s continued difficulties in fast-tracking graduates to the first-team from a setup that has lifted the last four FA Youth Cups.
There is plenty of young talent at Chelsea, but the pathway to the first team remains blocked as it is treated as a separate entity.
It is a situation that has caused friction at Stamford Bridge. Behind the scenes, powerbrokers like sporting director Michael Emenalo dream of the club being sustained by its youth setup. They hope for a time when long years of a boom-bust cycle of trophy success, followed by crashing failure and expensive managerial sackings, can be overturned by a solid bedrock of talent such as that which underpinned the great Barcelona and Manchester United teams of recent times.
But, like predecessor Jose Mourinho, who in August 2015 announced that “in 10 minutes you can show me if you are ready or if you are not ready,” manager Antonio Conte prefers battle-hardened veterans.
With Roman Abramovich going through 11 managers since 2004, there has been no time for the club to blend youth with experience. Slumps quickly hasten managers’ exits; quick-fix managers do not trust youngsters. Chelsea are stuck in a holding pattern.
Would an injection of youth solve Conte’s problems within his squad? Perhaps not, but Chelsea will never know when players like Abraham, Izzy Brown, Mario Pasalic and Kasey Palmer are farmed out to clubs like Swansea, Brighton, Spartak Moscow and Huddersfield. Dominic Solanke, who scored four goals during England’s Under-20 World Cup triumph last summer, chose to join Liverpool rather than wait for his opportunity.
Chelsea youth players simply do not receive the same chances to shine that an 18-year-old Rashford seized at United, or Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Solanke’s U20 colleague, is being granted at Everton.
Injuries drained Chelsea during Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace — with Morata and N’Golo Kante missing, and Victor Moses pulling up lame — and such absences should offer chances for young players to step up. In the 57th minute, Antonio Conte hauled off Michy Batshuayi. The Italian does not appear to trust the Belgian, but could turn only to Pedro, a winger, as replacement. Beyond Morata, a player not as durable as Costa, Conte suffers severely for striking options.
Tammy Abraham celebrates after scoring a goal in Swansea City’s win against Huddersfield. Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images
At the same time, Abraham was scoring twice for Swansea against Huddersfield in a 2-0 victory. The striker is making carefully curated progress on a career path taking a gentle upward curve. At Bristol City last season, he scored 23 Championship goals in 41 matches; Swansea now offer him a Premier League education under the expert coaching of former Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich assistant Paul Clement.
Abraham is developing in a hothouse environment and his market value is climbing should Chelsea want to cash in as they opted to do last summer with Nathaniel Chalobah, sold to Watford, and Bertrand Traore, sold to Lyon.
By coincidence, Abraham is serving as Swansea’s replacement for Fernando Llorente, who Conte was aghast to lose out on to