For everything Thomas Tuchel has got right at Chelsea (and there’s a whole lot of that), one criticism of his reign so far has to be his management of Tammy Abraham.
The academy graduate bagged a club-high 18 goals in 2019/20 and led Chelsea’s scoring charts at the time of Tuchel’s arrival, only to be near-enough frozen out by the German, who preferred an out-of-position Kai Havertz and a misfiring Timo Werner to a hungry youngster with a proven record of Premier League goals.
With two years left on his contract and no hope of minutes following the £97.5m signing of Romelu Lukaku, Abraham upped sticks and headed to Roma, reuniting with Jose Mourinho on a mutual quest to prove English football wrong.
Did we really need to get to this point?
Tuchel’s treatment of Abraham obviously worked out on the whole. Havertz scored the winning goal in the Champions League final and the addition of Lukaku has made Chelsea genuine title contenders again, but all of that could have been accomplished without giving the boot to the club’s only proven goalscorer of the past two years.
From the minute he hauled Abraham off at half-time in his second game against Burnley, it seemed as though Tuchel had made his mind up about the striker. As the manager, he’s obviously entitled to do that, but what made the situation so confusing is that Tuchel’s alternative to Abraham wasn’t even cutting it.
Both Werner and false-nine Havertz scored in just two Premier League games under Tuchel last year, and it was their struggles in front of goal, not Abraham’s, that started the ‘Chelsea need a striker to be genuine contenders’ narrative.
Chelsea had that striker, but for whatever reason, he barely got the chance to prove himself.
Now, let’s not get too excited here and claim that Abraham was Ballon d’Or stuff last year. He himself will admit that he wasn’t at his potent best, but he was still better than the alternatives when it came to putting the ball in the back of the net.
His 0.52 goals per 90 minutes was the highest of any Chelsea player last year and significantly higher than Havertz (0.24) and Werner (0.21). There’s a reason he finished level on goals with Werner despite playing well below half the minutes handed to the German.
Abraham should have been more involved last year, and that would have opened the door for him to stay and fill the void of second-fiddle to Lukaku which is instead going to two players who are not really supposed to be playing there.
Havertz wants to be a right-sided ten and Werner wants that role on the left, so there is still an Abraham-sized hole in the striker department, but why would the Englishman want it after the six months he had?
Anyone with eyes knows Abraham is good enough for top-flight football. Tuchel will not be blind to his talent but, as his pursuit of Lukaku proved, the boss was more bothered about finding someone with different characteristics to Abraham, and that’s fine.
At the end of the day, it’s Tuchel’s job to win trophies. When you interview for the Chelsea job, you’re told that it’s all about immediate global dominance, and the German has done superbly to get Chelsea on track for that.
However, could he have done all that without leaving Abraham disillusioned? If Tuchel could accomplish everything he has so far without an actual goalscorer, just imagine what he may have managed with one.
Tuchel has earned some faith from fans, and it’s not as if Chelsea’s squad is in a worse state having swapped Abraham for Lukaku, but there’s a feeling that he didn’t have to close one door to open another.
That frustration will be Abraham’s fuel out in Rome. He always felt he was good enough to play for a top side, and now he’s finally getting the chance to prove it.