There’s been a funny old trend at Chelsea in recent years – I’d say since the arrival of Roman Abramovich – to send an unfathomable number of players out on loan each season. This year is no different, as the London club have farmed out 26 of their chaps across the world.
They’re not all youngsters, mind you. Loïc Rémy and Juan Cuadrado, for example, both in their late twenties and are out on loan just so they don’t rot at a club where they don’t quite cut the mustard. Most of them, though, are talented prodigies, hoping to gain some form and prove to Antonio Conte they can fit into the first team where the likes of Remy and Cuadrado cannot.
And yet, for as many players as Chelsea intend on sprinkling around UK and worldwide every single bloody season, who was the last player to come through their ranks and really hold down a first team place? John Terry? One or two have flirted with the green of Stamford Bridge but in the last 15 years I can’t think of a single player to do it. Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftuc-Cheek, Robert Huth… anyone else?
Cue the red-hot Tammy Abraham.
This kid seems to have something a bit different to those usually plying their trade away from their employers. The gangly forward has looked good in the youth teams at Chelsea but, having played just twice for the first team no one was expecting to hit the ground running at Bristol City in quite the same way he has. In just 16 appearances he’s bagged 9 Championship goals already, with only Dwight Gayle – a proven success at this level – ahead of him on 11.
His goals have been impressive, but his overall contribution to the team’s game has been enough to win him Championship Young Player of the Month for September. A huge accolade for someone for whom September was really his second full month at this level. He’s taken to the big time like a dog to dirt.
Now we’ve seen some true potential from Chelsea players in the past. Samuele Della Bona captained the Italian U18 side while at Chelsea, and managed 55 league appearances in three years. But, at 21, he was sold to AC Milan, where he played 4 times, and he slipped through the Italian divisions and never appeared for the senior national side. He’s not retired, but is without a club since 2012.
Carlton Cole looked like being a great target man, playing 25 times in the Premier League for Chelsea and scored 6 goals in 19 U21 England games. He had relative success at West Ham, and played 7 times for England (although without scoring). His goals were never quite enough though, and he never hit the heights some thought he might in his youth.
These chaps, along with so many others, showed potential on the training pitch but their gameday performances didn’t meet it. This is what’s different about Abraham: he’s doing it on the pitch. He’s not just scoring the goals. His shot conversion rate is the best of anyone with more than 6 goals. His minutes per goal (144) is bettered only by Gayle (94) and Glenn Murray (9 goals – 137 mins per goal), who are established players in the Championship and play for the top two sides, Newcastle and Brighton. On top of that, he’s got three more in the EFL Cup and two assists. That’s 14 goals/assists in 20 games. He’s only just past sixth form age. This is his first ever full season as a professional. There’s only one or two players in the league anywhere near him, and even they have taken years to reach this level. Best bit? At his age, he’s just getting started.
Not since John Terry have I seen a youngster break through the ranks at Chelsea and had even a bit of faith in him making the first team. Sadly, I’m not convinced Abraham will either.
This is no reflection on him as a player. Chelsea just don’t seem to have a great deal of interest, historically, in playing the young lads. Since Ruud Gullit gave Terry his debut, Chelsea have changed managers a staggering 16 times, and not once has any of them given youth a chance. What remains consistent is the structure and the ownership of the club, and unless that changes Abraham has a real fight on his hands.
That’s not to say he won’t hit the big time. Players have left Chelsea, disillusioned with a lack of first team opportunities, and proven the club wrong by making it elsewhere. Romelu Lukaku, Daniel Sturridge, Kevin De Bruyne, Nemanja Matic (who did return), Ryan Bertrand, Robert Huth and a plethora of others have slipped through the net and The Blues have often regretted it.
What I am certain of though, is that these goals and this Young Player of the Month award are a sign of a player playing at a level, after just 22 senior games, that most players take years to get to. Keep an eye on this kid, mark my words; whether at Stamford Bridge or somewhere else, Tammy Abraham is going to find a club willing to put everything they can into him and reap the rewards.
Elsewhere in the Championship
Just the second tier of English football for you this week. Sorry, I know, but we have been treated to the first round of the beloved FA Cup so it’s not all bad. Anyway, onto it…
It was business as usual at the top of the table as Newcastle (1st) grabbed their seventh league win on the bounce. Christian Atsu and Yohan Gouffran put The Magpies ahead shortly before half time and, while Peter Wittingham pulled one back after the break, their resistance held and three more points at St James’ Park became a precession. Neil Warnock had improved Cardiff’s (21st) form with 7 points from his first three games, but two defeats on the trot leave them a point above the dreaded drop-zone.
Brighton (2nd) have come close to promotion in recent seasons, but things are coming together nicely this time out as they won their fourth game – and got their fourth clean sheet – in a row and are unbeaten in 11. Steve Sidwell scored from all of 50 yards aganinst Bristol City (9th) and Jamie Murphy made it two on 20mins as the south coast club eased to victory against a high quality opposition. They’ve conceded just 9 goals so far, and that unbeaten run could stretch a bit further yet.
Huddersfield (3rd) keep somewhat in touch with the top two, although five points behind now, with a 1-1 draw at home to Birmingham (7th), who drop out of the play-offs. Huddersfield took the lead in the 69th minute but Birmingham hit back just moments later and, despite the home side’s domination, came good with a draw.
Reading’s (4th) swift climb up the table continued and their form and quality showed against lowly Wigan (22nd), who remain in the bottom three. It was by no means a one sided game, but after opening with the fastest Championship goal of the season after 57 seconds, Reading never looked back and eased to a 3-0 win.
Norwich (5th) slipped to a third defeat in a row since I tipped them for automatic promotion in my piece on them (whoops) and, once again, their shaky defence (something I did get right) has let them down. After bringing it back to 2-2 at home to Leeds (6th) in the 88th minute, they still found time to lose the game as the spectacularly named Ronaldo Vieira’s last minute goal won it. Three losses in a row now for The Canaries, while Leeds, with three successive wins, climb into the playoffs. Garry Monk appears to be doing an excellent job and the Leeds owners’ patience is being rewarded after they were 22nd less than two months ago.
More dismay at the bottom of the table, as Rotherham (24th) made it eight defeats in ten in the league (2 draws), losing 3-1 at home to Preston (11th). Kenny Jackett’s side just don’t look like they belong in the division and I’m surprised bets are even still being taken on them going down this season. Their deficit to safety is already more points than they’ve accumulated and it’s simply looking impossible for them to get out of trouble.
Blackburn (23rd) also lost 2-1 to on form Aston Villa (14th), who have three wins and a draw from Steve Bruce’s first four games. He’s transformed the team, steadied the ship and they’re only 5 points now from 6th place Leeds. Blackburn, meanwhile, seem to be struggling for goals with just four in seven games and are fortunate no one in the bottom eight won this weekend.
With Wigan a point and a place above them, and Cardiff a point and a place further up, the pattern continues with Nottingham Forest (20th) grabbing a point against now managerless QPR (17th), who relinquished Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink of his managerial duties and have juts two wins in ten league games.
His former club Burton (18th) sit right below the Londoners after a battling 0-0 draw with Barnsley (13th). Barnsley have halted their rotten run that saw them get just a single point in six games, and their 0-0 draw with Burton sees them unbeaten in three.
Wolves’ form has nosedived lately and their fifth defeat in seven (2 draws) against an on form Derby County (16th) drags them down to 19th. Like his Aston Villa counterpart, Steve McLaren has come back to Derby to steady a rocking ship, and with just one defeat in seven (4 wins) their form belies their position as they play more like a team chasing the play-offs than running from relegation. Tom Ince, double goalscorer in the 3-2 away win, looks to be playing particularly well.
A point ahead of Derby are Ipswich (15th), whose 2-1 win against Sheffield Wednesday (10th) saw the Yorkshire club drop away from the play-offs. While unspectacular, Ipswich’s form is quite consistent and I don’t see them fluctuating in position a lot this season. Sheff Wednesday, on the other hand, have dropped from the play-offs with two defeats in a row to lower-placed opponents and will be disappointed after a run of five wins in eight league games. Still, they’re only 2 point behind Leeds so it’s all to play for.
In the final game of the weekend, Brentford (12), who sit a point and a place above Barnsley, lost 2-0 to Fulham in an exciting London Derby and, with just one win in six games, they too have slipped down the table.
Table toppers after gameweek 16 – Newcastle (37pts)
Table proppers – Rotherham United (7pts)
Biggest climbers – Leeds Utd, Fulham and Derby (3 places to 6th, 8th and 16th)
Biggest droppers – Bristol City, Sheff Wed and QPR (3 places to 9th, 10th and 17th)
Team of the week – Leeds Utd’s 3-2 win at Norwich should have been harder, but they did well to win it late on.
Goals goals goals! – Wolves 2-3 Derby; Norwich 2-3 Leeds