Tammy Abraham on his revival under Jose Mourinho at Roma and why England can find their form again

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Tammy Abraham’s move to Roma last year might have looked a risk and many felt it was better for him to stay in the Premier League. 

How wrong they were. Not only has he shone on the pitch, winning a European trophy and scoring 27 goals, he has taken to the lifestyle off the pitch seamlessly.

Now speaking Italian, adored by the fans, and happy in the Italian capital, he’s become a certainty to be in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad for Qatar. DANNY MURPHY caught up with him after his latest call-up.

Tammy Abraham has proved it was the right decision to swap Chelsea for Roma last year

MURPHY: Buongiorno, Tam. Your first season with Roma couldn’t have gone better with 27 goals. It must give you confidence. Does it also change your outlook given the standards you’ve set?

ABRAHAM: There is something in me saying I want to do even better. As a character, that’s how I thrive. I look at Erling Haaland who is the most talked-about player in the world right now. I use it as a secret motivation, to try to reach that level, hit those targets. Other players’ success, that is what gets me going.

MURPHY: You’ve gone from being in and out at Chelsea to playing every week, the main man. It’s a change in status.

ABRAHAM: If you’d told me a couple of years ago I’d be playing in Italy, I wouldn’t have believed you. Leaving Chelsea was difficult, it’s where I’d grown up from the age of seven.

I didn’t know much about Italian football but it has helped me develop as a player and as a man. I’ve come out of my comfort zone and don’t have any regrets. I love the life and it’s brought out another side to my game.

At Chelsea, I was viewed purely as a goalscorer. Here, I’ve learned different aspects of the game. If our opponents have more of the ball, I know how to position myself defensively. You have to be more clinical finishing chances because they can be limited.

Abraham had been at Chelsea since the age of seven and admits it was hard to leave the club

Abraham had been at Chelsea since the age of seven and admits it was hard to leave the club

MURPHY: We glorify the Premier League as the best. How does it compare to Serie A?

ABRAHAM: They both have qualities that the other one doesn’t. Italian football is very tactical. Teams want to stop you from scoring as much as possible. I think they mainly focus on stopping goals which does make it harder for a striker of course.

One thing I had to learn quickly was how to win free-kicks. Holding the ball up when your team might need a breather, getting the cheap fouls as we would call them in England. Little things like that, I’ve added.

MURPHY: I’ve met your manager Jose Mourinho on a couple of occasions at events like Soccer Aid. I found him different to his image, he was quite jovial. You see the professional side of course.

ABRAHAM: He is one of the best for man-management. He knows how to speak to players, the best way to deal with each one. In my case, he never tells me how well I am doing. At half-time, I never get a ‘Well done’ even though in the back of my mind I am thinking, ‘You know I’m playing well’. He always wants you to do better.

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The striker plays under Jose Mourinho, who he says is 'one of the best for man-management'

The striker plays under Jose Mourinho, who he says is ‘one of the best for man-management’

Before the Europa Conference semi-final against Leicester last season, he dragged me into a room and said: “Tam, I don’t think you have been good enough”. 

I was surprised because I had scored in the previous game! I asked what he meant and he said he wasn’t seeing the Tammy he saw play against Lazio for example. It was motivating and I did end up scoring the winner against Leicester.

MURPHY: I’m always impressed by how well Italian players dress. Do you think some of your England mates might struggle with that?

ABRAHAM: The standard is high, I think people wake up an hour early just to make the effort. For me, it’s wake up, slap on a tracksuit, and go. You’re asking to me dig out some England players! To be fair, they’re all right. Maybe coming off the back of my time at Chelsea, Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount might struggle just a bit. Their fashion might not be understood as much.

MURPHY: Jack Grealish would be all right with his Gucci gear! You’re part of a generation of young English players overseas; Fikayo Tomori and Jude Bellingham are also in this England squad, Jadon Sancho went to Dortmund young, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Harry Winks, Dele Alli are all abroad now.

Abraham reveals that Jadon Sancho's time at Dortmund gave him confidence to move abroad

Abraham reveals that Jadon Sancho’s time at Dortmund gave him confidence to move abroad

ABRAHAM: People might have been scared of change. Everyone likes to be in a comfortable place but sometimes you can have regrets if you don’t try it. Whatever happens with the rest of my career, I can look back and be proud of playing and living in Italy, experiencing a different life. 

Sancho is a great example. At the time he went to Dortmund, I thought: ‘Why?’ But he did brilliantly and it’s given others the confidence to do it. Jude Bellingham followed him to Dortmund, me and Tomori are in Italy. We’re playing well, banging on the door. I believe Sancho opened many people’s eyes.

MURPHY: And people in this country can access the European leagues you’re playing in. A few years ago, it was Barcelona or Real Madrid only apart from maybe one show a week.

ABRAHAM: Before I went on loan to Aston Villa, I had a couple of clubs interested in France but I wasn’t sure at that time, I thought I’d be easily forgotten out there even if I was playing well. Now I would tell English players, think about experiencing it.

MURPHY: England’s last camp in June wasn’t great. Two draws and two defeats against Hungary, the last one 4-0 at home. Gareth Southgate has rightly got a lot of plaudits for the job he’s done, this was the first blip with questions asked. 

Does that make these two Nations League games against Italy and Germany — the last internationals before the World Cup — all the more important?

The 24-year-old is in the England squad for this month's games against Italy and Germany

The 24-year-old is in the England squad for this month’s games against Italy and Germany

ABRAHAM: It’s the sport we play in. We know how frustrating the last meet-up was. We didn’t perform, but as players you have to move on, there is always the next one. Of course the World Cup is coming up, so everyone wants to do their best for themselves and the country.

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MURPHY: Everyone knows Harry Kane is first pick up front. I had a similar situation in England squads, I was up against Lampard, Gerrard, Scholes, Beckham. It might surprise people but I didn’t feel frustration get the better of me. I took it as a chance to be around the best without the pressure they were under.

ABRAHAM: Being picked in an England squad is a massive honour. The competition is so fierce, you always have that little thought: ‘Am I going?’ I speak to Tomori [former Chelsea team-mate now with AC Milan] and we were like little kids again when we got the call-up. We were shouting down the phone to each other, excited. We know how important it is with the World Cup so close.

When I work with Harry, I use it as a learning curve. If it’s me and him doing finishing drills in training, I look at his positioning, I try to take traits of it into my own game. He’s a wonderful striker but as a player I had to be ready as well because you never know what will happen.

Harry Kane is currently England's first choice striker, with Abraham acting as understudy

Harry Kane is currently England’s first choice striker, with Abraham acting as understudy

MURPHY: A game against Italy in Milan would be extra special for you. Many years ago when Gary Lineker played for Barcelona, England had a game in Spain — and he scored four!

ABRAHAM: Obviously if I was to be involved, I would love to impress and come back and give my Roma team-mates some stick!

MURPHY: I loved your wing-back Leonardo Spinazzola. He was sensational for Italy at Euro 2020 until he got that bad Achilles injury.

ABRAHAM: He’s back now and doing well. It’s always difficult when you first come off a long injury. If he’s involved on Friday, it will be good to see him and any other Roma team-mates, and play in a familiar stadium.

MURPHY: Expectations for England were lower at the last World Cup in Russia and the team thrived, all the way to the semi-finals. After reaching the final of Euro 2020 though, I suspect they will be higher in Qatar. How do the players handle that?

There are high expectations for the Three Lions ahead of the World Cup in Qatar this winter

There are high expectations for the Three Lions ahead of the World Cup in Qatar this winter

ABRAHAM: We need to block out all the noise and any nonsense that we can blow everyone away. It’s not going to be easy but the best way for us players is to approach matches with a free mind. You can’t perform if you feel under pressure or there is a fear factor.

As players we thrive when the fans are behind us like they were at the Euros. Of course we were disappointed with that last game against Hungary but in football these things do happen. It is how we bounce back.

MURPHY: I just want to flip back to Chelsea if I may. I know you didn’t get a run in the team before you left in 2021 but a lot of strikers struggle at that club; Shevchenko, Torres, Higuain, it didn’t work out for Lukaku when he signed for massive money when you went to Roma.

ABRAHAM: I remember Lukaku saying at Inter Milan he is facing the goal more compared to Chelsea, when it is more back to the goal and linking up. It made me think back and compare it to my style of play now. 

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The midfield and defenders are so vital for Chelsea, it is a lonely job up front and can be difficult. But I don’t think it’s true to say there is a curse of No9s, there will be different reasons for each striker, and it’s an honour to play for that club.

Most Chelsea strikers have struggled to follow in the footsteps of Blues legend Didier Drogba

Most Chelsea strikers have struggled to follow in the footsteps of Blues legend Didier Drogba

MURPHY: Personally, I think when you’ve had an icon like Didier Drogba who won everything and always scored in cup finals, anyone else that follows is compared to him. 

I live in Surrey and even now the Chelsea fans in my area still talk about Drogba. The only one who has coped since is Diego Costa. It is an incredible expectation for anyone to live up to and I think that’s part of it more than the tactical side.

ABRAHAM: I had some moments at Chelsea where I was called a flop and told to ‘Get out!’ And if I scored, they were calling me King Drogba. It’s impossible to emulate him fully but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is wearing the No9 now, I wish him all the best and hope he gets a run.

MURPHY: Can you tell me a little bit of life in Rome? There was a time when I nearly joined Lyon but in the end I never played abroad.

ABRAHAM: I spoke to Chris Smalling before I signed and he told me good weather, good people, good food, good league. He’s not been wrong. Rome is beautiful. I have been around and admired the history. Places like the Colosseum built so long ago.

The fans are so passionate, everywhere you go it’s either Roma or Lazio — the rivalry is crazy. You can stop at a petrol station and get mobbed, it’s different to London where you can lose yourself a bit more. It took a while to get used to but the people are lovely when you see them. You just tend to spend a little bit more time at home!

Abraham is not the only English player at Roma, there is also defender Chris Smalling

Abraham is not the only English player at Roma, there is also defender Chris Smalling

I took Italian lessons, I wanted to learn. I recently did an interview which got a good reaction even though it was only a few words. Funnily enough, Chris understands Italian but doesn’t speak it.

MURPHY: I’m sure people will appreciate you giving it a go even if you make a few mistakes. My final question is for my son really, he loves Paulo Dybala who you signed from Juventus. What’s he like?

ABRAHAM: He’s talented. As good as he is on FIFA. He brings leadership qualities as well even though he looks like he’s 12 years old! He’s got that experience of winning trophies at Juve which is what we needed.

It’s good for me personally, we are building that partnership.

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