So it’s arrivederci & hoşçakal to Tammy Abraham & Michy Batshuayi respectively. Tammy has completed a move to Roma for a reported £34 million, Michy is on the verge of what must surely be the last of a seemingly interminable series of loan moves, this time to Besiktas in Turkey.
The Batman is considered a joke player by large swathes of the Chelsea fanbase but scored for fun during one of those loan moves, for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga no less. He also has 22 goals in 35 international appearances for Belgium. Some joke player. Someone, somewhere, is surely to reap the benefits of having a born goal getter like Michy in their ranks eventually, but it clearly will not be at Chelsea, where an apparent absence of tactical nous & ability to hold the ball up for his colleagues has frustrated all the Chelsea coaches during his 5 year stay & ensured he never rise beyond bit part player. Scoring the winner at WBA to clinch the title in the 2016-17 season nonetheless guarantees his place in club folklore, & away wins in the Champions League were also clinched by Michy goals, at Ajax, and, most memorably, a last gasp 2017 effort in the Wanda Metropolitano against Atletico Madrid. However, more commonly first team appearances have been limited to the early rounds of domestic cup competitions. These were the only games I could usually get a ticket for when returning to Stamford Bridge as a spectator so I saw plenty of Michy early on, before his marathon run of loan stints began & my loyalty point level rose enough to grant me the dubious honour of more regular company with Alvaro Morata. Along with the likes of the recently departed Willy Caballaro & the currently disenfranchised Davide Zappacosta (yet to be granted either another loan, a permanent move or a Chelsea squad number) I associate The Batman with my first, faltering steps back into the matchday fold so will always retain a fondness for all three of them. All have been widely derided but are genuine football eccentrics, & even in these relentless, ruthless, ultra professional trophy hunting times, I rue the day that Stamford Bridge does not have a place for a few wildcard footballers in the squad. Tough titty for me then. That day may well have arrived. My last two memories of Michy at Stamford Bridge are both from the pre-pandemic stages of the 2019-20 season. One was a superlative long range Carabao Cup goal at the Matthew Harding end against Manchester United ,the other a spiteful & cowardly assault on his genitals via a stamp courtesy of the studs on the right boot of that odious yob Harry Maguire during a league game against the same opposition. The Bat proceed to badly fluff his lines a couple of times during the game & has not made a first team appearance since. Maguire escaped unpunished & proceeded to score a crucial opening goal when he should have been sat on his rancid arse in the stand. Cheats never prosper my dad used to tell me. Got that one wrong sadly. Better luck in Turkey Michy.
Former Chelsea players have to work hard for me not to retain some level of fondness for them. It’s a small band usually distinguished by retrospective carping about the club, sometimes out of bitterness, occasionally for financial gain, in one specific instance a uniquely enduring combination of the two. The highest degree of fondness is usually reserved for players who to us fans will always remain, at heart, a Blue. Tammy Abraham is surely destined to be one of these. New coaches will always take to certain players more than others, & clearly Thomas Tuchel has never fancied Tammy, who scored a hat trick in Frank Lampard’s last match but has rarely featured since. What Tuchel has clearly succeeded in doing is to engender an inclusive team spirit that keeps out of favour players onside. This is no mean feat & does both parties credit. We have heard no whinging or bitterness from Tammy Abraham, quite the opposite in fact. He has been at the fore during the immediate celebrations following both European triumphs of the past few months. With not even a place on the bench found for him in Porto for the Champions League final Tammy was nonetheless found celebrating wildly with his colleagues on the pitch at the final whistle, dressed in full kit a la John Terry, happily without a similarly absurd, overblown outpouring of widespread scorn & ridicule!
The timing & circumstances of Tammy’s departure are heavily laced with irony courtesy of his new coach at Roma. Step forward the one & only Jose Mourinho, the eternal would be ghost at the modern Chelsea feast if only he hadn’t trashed the club & its supporters so often that many have ceased to care what he says, thinks or does these days. Tammy Abraham was an Academy player during Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea between 2013-15. Reputedly his office was right next to the Academy’s playing area at Cobham but Jose showed little or no interest in the activities occurring there. Not renowned for promoting youth from within during his Chelsea years, Mourinho appears to have been cut from the same cloth as current West Ham CEO Karren Brady during her time as Managing Director at Birmingham City. At one point she oversaw the dismantling of The Blues youth set up as St Andrews. Birmingham, under manager Barry Fry, instead concentrated on sustaining a constant conveyor belt of frenzied, wheeler dealer first team ins & outs via the transfer market. The neglect of the youth team was countered angrily by Brady, who at one point observed that when people buy a can of beans they don’t care about the process that leads to the beans getting into the can. This ill judged metaphor for fan attitude to youth development was not only arrogant but plainly incorrect. Supporters love to see their clubs engaging in high powered tansfer activity, but they also love to see their own breaking into the first team fold. A philistine like Brady could be expected to know no better but Jose is a proper football man for all his many failings. Unfortunately he is never around at any club for more than 2/3 seasons, so the short term fix of big money, ready made solutions is hardly surprising. It must also be noted that Chelsea’s ruthless hiring & firing of its coaches have ensured that Jose Mourinho is far from the only man in the Stamford Bridge hot seat this century to deflect his gaze away from the development of young players.
The irony arises not just from Jose Mourinho splashing out £34 million on a player who he likely paid little attention to in his Chelsea years (Guus Hiddink subsequently handed Tammy his Chelsea debut at Anfield in 2016, a few months after Jose’s second sacking) but also from the identity of the man whose own second Stamford Bridge coming sealed Abraham’s fate. For even when Jose was handed top, imported young talent from outside the Chelsea Academy he declined the opportunity to successfully integrate them into his first team squad. Romelu Lukaku, Mo Salah & Kevin De Bruyne were all deemed to have fluffed their lines sufficiently from fleeting first team opportunities afforded to them & sold out of the club under Mourinho’s watch. All three have emerged as elite talents since, the return of the supremely accomplished De Bruyne especially likely to figure as one of most Chelsea fan’s genie wish options. He stunk out the place during a Carling Cup tie at Swindon. Gone. Salah did likewise in the same tournament away to Shrewsbury. Gone. Lukaku missed the deciding penalty in the European Super Cup shootout against Bayern Munich in 2013, was loaned out to Everon immediately after & never kicked a ball for Chelsea again. Until now. A man of greater humilty & self awareness might admit to making three colossal errors. Humility & self awareness seemingly being in short supply in the Mourinho household the great man naturally washes his hands of all culpability, claiming the decision to sell all three players was taken at board level. The humble coach had no say in who he kept in his squad apparently. Yeah, right. Michael Emanelo, then in charge of recruiting young talent from around Europe, & oft maligned by supporters at the time, was reportedly (& correctly) horrified by the departure of these future major players for relatively scant profit. He had headhunted all of them. Lukaku was especially seen as his baby. Still, Jose proved who was boss, albeit at massive cost to Chelsea Football Club. Bravo Jose.
Lukaku returns for a reported £97.5 million, just under 80 million more than was paid for him from Anderlecht in 2011 & just under 70 million more than the club got from Everton when the loan move became permanent in 2014. Antonio Conte wanted him back at Stamford Bridge in 2017 but was pipped at the post by Man Utd, who paid a reported £68 million to take him to Old Trafford, then being coached by………yes, you’ve guessed it, that perverse little tinker Jose Mourinho. Conte eventually got his man in Milan, where he is credited with overseeing vast improvements in Lukaku’s game which his former employers will hopefully now benefit from. As for Abraham linking up with Mourinho at Roma, hopefully there will be some similar ironing out of deficiencies in his game under the tutelage of the erstwhile Special One. Already a great finisher, in possession of a decent turn of pace, & clever & fleet of foot with the ball in his possession, Tammy nonetheless seemed unable to bully opposition defenders & powerfully lead the line in the way Lukaku does. For a tall man he is also disappointingly weak in the air, & his goal tally from headers reflect this. He has done himself & Chelsea proud since Frank Lampard introduced him following the 2019 transfer ban though. My favourite memory among many is the winning goal at The Emirates against his boyhood idols Arsenal at Christmas that year. Like Lukaku, Tammy had a false start with a deciding missed penalty in the European Super Cup, this time against Liverpool at the start of that 2019-20 season. Unlike Lukaku, he had a coach who continued to support & play him, though in fairness to Mourinho this time it was a coach without the luxury of a primetime Diego Costa to fall back on. In the aftermath of this game Tammy was then subjected to some disgusting abuse on social media, some of it racial, some merely the red cross through the head statement of contempt that other emerging talents like Mason Mount were also subjected to, with just as little justification. There was little evidence of similar antipathy within match going circles & the goals soon came. Tammy has plenty of time to fulfill his immense potential & with any luck we may also see him back at Stamford Bridge before his race is run.
Go well Tammy. Ditto Michy. Welcome back Romelu.