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Thursday, June 1, 2023

How will the signing of Tammy Abraham change Jose Mourinho’s Roma team?

Tammy Abraham Roma transfer
Tammy Abraham joins Roma after a break-out season with Chelsea. Clive Rose/EPA.

For 15 years, Stamford Bridge had been Tammy Abraham’s home. The striker progressed through every level of Chelsea’s youth system before making his first team breakthrough, via loan spells at Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa. Abraham, though, recognised the need to depart his boyhood club in order to advance his career, joining Roma in a £34m transfer this week.

Arsenal were also interested in the 23-year-old, but Jose Mourinho pushed hard for Abraham to join him in the Italian capital, having worked with the striker at youth level at Chelsea. Abraham might not have played much over the last season, falling out of favour after Frank Lampard’s dismissal, but Mourinho knows what he’s getting.

“I’ve known him since he was a boy,” said the Roma boss. “He’s never played for me, because he was a 14, 15, 16-year-old boy when I was at Chelsea, but I know him very well. I know him as a person, a player and in terms of his mentality. I know how he made the decision to leave the Premier League, which is always tough for an English player. That tells me so much about him, because when you leave the Premier League, you do so because you’re ambitious.”

Roma looks to be a food fit for Abraham, and vice-versa. The England international’s arrival at the Stadio Olimpico was closely linked to the exit of Edin Dzeko, with the Bosnian striker joining Inter as the direct replacement for Romelu Lukaku (who effectively pushed Abraham out of the door at Chelsea).

Dzeko was a reliable performer for Roma, but Mourinho likely welcomed the opportunity to rejuvenate a squad that has grown a little stagnant in recent years. The signing of Abraham, 12 years younger than Dzeko, will help do this. With Abraham leading the line, Roma can build something for the future.

Abraham is an intelligent mover inside the penalty box and has the physical attributes to perform as an orthodox frontman in the way Dzeko did. Mourinho likes his centre forwards to be true centre forwards, and this certainly describes Abraham, who reads the game better than most players in his position.

To get the best out of Abraham, who averaged more shots with his head than his feet during his time with Chelsea in the Premier League, Roma might have to adapt their 3-4-2-1 system. Last season, Roma’s width came from Leonardo Spinazzola and Rick Karsdop in the wing back positions, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini deployed centrally to support Dzeko.

Mourinho could use two out-and-out wingers to provide Abraham with a more reliable supply line than his wing backs can provide. Alternatively, Abraham could tailor his game to work as a member of a front three alongside Mkhitaryan and Pellegrini; the 23-year-old has the technical ability to play his part in build-up moves.

Having cost £34m, Roma’s faith in Abraham is clear. The 23-year-old surely looked at how Chris Smalling revived his career at the Stadio Olimpico after losing his place at Manchester United, while Mkhitaryan also did similar after struggling to make much of an impression in the Premier League.

Serie A has proven itself as a good destination for players looking for career rehabilitation, and Abraham is in a better place than most to achieve this. While Mkhitaryan and Smalling were given ample opportunity to correct course in the Premier League, Abraham surely feels somewhat aggrieved about the way things panned out for him at Chelsea.

In 82 appearances for Chelsea, Abraham notched 30 goals and 12 assists. He was a reliable goalscorer for the Blues, but was replaced by big-name, big-money signings like Kai Havertz and Timo Werner just as it seemed Chelsea had pivoted towards their youth academy. The £98m signing of Lukaku this summer proved to be the end for Abraham at the club.

Mourinho won’t have to do much to restore Abraham, both in terms of his mentality and his play on the pitch, because his level never really dropped at Chelsea. The 23-year-old should be good to go as a ready-made number nine for Roma to build around and play off this season. Abraham could face Fiorentina in his new club’s season opener on Sunday.

This job could prove to be the most challenging of Mourinho’s career with Roma’s squad nowhere near as strong as some of their rivals at the top of Serie A. But the signing of Abraham will help the Portuguese coach build something at the Stadio Olimpico. He could prove to be more than just a replacement for Dzeko.

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