When Tammy Abraham completed his €40m move from Chelsea to AS Roma, many assumed his dreams of breaking into Gareth Southgate’s England plans had taken a step back or had even been completely dashed.
Chris Smalling never got a look-in during the 2019/20 campaign, despite playing his best football in years, while Fikayo Tomori missed out on a Euro 2020 spot having proven himself as one of the best defenders in Serie A over the second half of the 2020/21 season with AC Milan.
Add to that the feeling that Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham would be playing a much more significant role in the Three Lions setup if they’d been playing their football in England and not at Borussia Dortmund, and you begin to see a pattern forming.
Hell, no one trusted Owen Hargreaves on British shores until he made the move to Manchester United, despite him playing a key role at Bayern Munich.
But this is the common assumption. When a footballer leaves England for pastures new, it tends to spark a recurring stigma: if you’re not competing in the best league in the world, you’re not good enough for England.
So when Abraham reluctantly decided to leave Chelsea due to a lack of game time and headed for Rome, it felt as if the Premier League viewers were Mufasa, telling a young Simba that Serie A is ‘the shadowy place’.
“You must never go there, Tammy.”
Well, much like the Lion King, Abraham ignored the whispers of doubt and crossed the border – only this time, he’s made sure that the light now touches calcio.
It was confirmed after Roma’s victory over Empoli that Abraham – along with Tomori – had been selected for England’s next round of international fixtures, making the squad for the first time in almost a whole year.
And it’s no less than he deserves, either. Abraham was brave in leaving England, choosing to join a club that is not synonymous with winning trophies and hasn’t even competed in the Champions League since 2019.
He is an ambitious player however, and he recognised the ambition of a club naming Jose Mourinho as the new manager, buying into the mystique and aura that follows the Portuguese coach – particularly in Italy.
In Rome, Abraham was promised to be the main man. He would not play second fiddle to another elite forward, and the team would be built to serve him and his goal thirst. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Nicolo Zaniolo and Lorenzo Pellegrini surrounding him, the English forward couldn’t ask for more pace or firepower flanking and backing him.
So far, Abraham has looked completely at home, and he has fast become a fan favourite among the Giallorossi faithful. Romanisti are not used to winning league titles, and while they begin each season dreaming of glory, they know it’s rarely more than a fantasy.
But they expect and demand effort, and for players to understand what it means to wear the Roma badge on their chest. Abraham has embraced that aspect of the game, and fans have fallen in love with his visible desire to win and tireless work rate.
That love has clearly been reciprocated too, as demonstrated when he was caught singing along to Roma’s pre-match anthem prior to kick-off.
On the pitch, he has shown brilliant hold-up play during his outings for the Giallorossi, with his work outside of the penalty area often winning free-kicks that have resulted in goals for his teammates. In fact, he provided two assists on his debut, while also drawing Bartlomiej Dragowski into a rash foul which saw the Fiorentina goalkeeper receive a game-changing red card.
Abraham almost topped off his debut with a goal, but rattled the crossbar with a powerful header. That has been a theme of his time in Rome, as although he has managed four goals in all competitions, he could have a whole lot more, if not for the woodwork.
The forward noted on Twitter that he has hit the post or bar six times this season, with the most recent denial coming in the victory over Empoli. Abraham won possession, galloped towards the edge of the box and let rip a terrific lightning bolt of a strike, which thundered off the underside of the bar.
The ball fell to Mkhitaryan, who claimed the plaudits with a simple tap-in. But that selflessness and willingness to supply others and celebrate their successes off the back of his own misfortune is what has propelled him back into the England team.
Abraham has shown an incredible side to his game in Rome, proving that he is far more than just a goalscorer. He can be a target man, a link-up playmaker or a ruthless finisher.
In fact, there is an argument to say he is the most similar striker England could deploy to current captain Harry Kane. Southgate didn’t give Dominic Calvert-Lewin a single minute at Euro 2020, probably because his attributes were not in line with those that Kane offers the rest of the Three Lions team.
But like Kane, Abraham likes to drop deep in search of the ball, carry it forward or ping it out wide to his wingers, before making his way into the box to meet the cross. He is a multifaceted forward, and one who can not only hone his game while working alongside England’s first-choice striker, but also replicate his style and replace him when fresh legs are needed.
England have been searching for an adequate striker to support Kane and imitate what he brings to the attack, and Abraham can prove himself to be that man in the Three Lions’ World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary.