Chelsea players, especially the youth players, know they only have one career. Even during and now after the youth revolution that changed Chelsea, the young Blues understand that they can’t waste time. It is a phenomenon that saw Romelu Lukaku force a move away after a successful loan season in the Premier League and the club still signing Didier Drogba back and Diego Costa over him. It is the same situation as Callum Hudson-Odoi submitting a transfer request after he was regularly the best player on the pitch yet still wasn’t being given chances.
It isn’t about “being willing to compete” as has often come up as a criticism against Tammy Abraham. That implies that the player has been fairly allowed to compete. Lukaku wasn’t when the club brought in the world’s hottest striker at the time and resigned Drogba. Hudson-Odoi wasn’t until the board forced Maurizio Sarri to play him. And Abraham hasn’t either.
That may be a bit of a controversial thing to say about Abraham but let’s lay out the facts. In 80 appearances for Chelsea, he has 30 goals and 12 assists. He’s done that at a time Chelsea has, overall, been at their weakest quality wise in ages and while splitting time with Olivier Giroud (who, for comparisons sake, has 47 appearances, 21 goals, and 1 assist with about half the minutes in the last two seasons). In case anyone was wondering who Abraham compared to, its Drogba in his first two seasons. The king of Stamford Bridge had 82 appearances where he scored 32 goals and 23 assists in his first two seasons (both title wins).
So, here is Abraham with nearly the same amount of goals as one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players, at a similar age, splitting time with Giroud as both of their contracts run out. That, for now, is a competition. What isn’t a competition is transfer rumors about Erling Haaland coming to Chelsea a summer after Timo Werner did (mind, Werner has been playing off the striker but that isn’t necessarily the end goal).
Haaland isn’t a “we want you to compete” kind of signing. It’s the type of signing a club makes knowing he will be the main man at the expense of all others. Furthermore, with rumors of another Giroud extension also bubbling up, Abraham is absolutely right to avoid extending himself.
Abraham is only 23 and the numbers clearly show he is one of the Premier League’s best strikers overall. Many knock him for not getting involved in games yet Chelsea has a funny habit of scoring A: more overall and B: with more variety when Abraham plays compared to Giroud. It could be counted on one hand how few Premier League teams he wouldn’t start for.
Now, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Haaland and Abraham can coexist at the club provided a few key pieces are in place. The first is Werner remains a support striker or whatever term we’re calling him now to avoid calling him the left winger he is playing as. Second is Giroud can’t stay at the club. And third is Abraham has to play enough to convince him he will be a key figure in the squad not just the stand in when Haaland can’t play.
That’s all a bit nuanced but basically a situation with Haaland and Abraham would need to look like the one with Abraham and Giroud. It’s a competition for sure, but there are relevant reasons why the club has favored Abraham slightly more over time. Even with that favor, it hasn’t kept Giroud from working his way in, especially as matches rack up.
But that’s going to take a lot of convincing, like Frank Lampard had to do with Hudson-Odoi when he arrived. For that, Thomas Tuchel will have to show far more faith in Abraham than he has shown thus far. Yes, he has started him but he’s also frequently sacrificed Abraham at half time too.
The board will also have to convince too, of course, especially given Haaland is their golden goose. If Giroud extends, Abraham is gone. If it is made clear Haaland will be the be all end all in the way that Costa was, Abraham is gone. And even if they somehow convince Abraham to stay and then renege on promises to him, he’s probably gone. It’s not about not being willing to compete. It’s about not being allowed to compete at all and only having one career to make the most of.
Abraham could, by a rough count, start for at least 16 teams in the Premier League by the end of next season. If Chelsea truly wants to be a Premier League challenging team, Haaland alone won’t be enough. Abraham and Haaland in tandem could be but that will be a very tricky navigation for the board.