The opening act of Frank Lampard’s tenure at Stamford Bridge has so far been a tempestuous affair, with the budding optimism brought upon by the ebullience of youth being countered by a pervasive defensive fragility and lack of experience.
Chelsea’s No.9 shirt has become something of a poisoned chalice in recent years, with holders of the shirt often struggling to fit in or make an impact at Stamford Bridge.
Mateja Kezman, Radamel Falcao and Alvaro Morata are just a few of the players that have been plagued by Chelsea’s numerical curse.
Following Morata’s departure to Atletico Madrid in the transfer window, the shirt became vacant once more.
Frank Lampard’s return to the Bridge brought with it a new opportunity for young academy players to fight for their spots in the first team and finally make their mark for Chelsea.
One such player was Tammy Abraham.
Upon impressing Lampard in training and pre-season, the 21-year-old academy product was selected to adopt the prestigious striker’s number for the 2019/20 season.
Many Chelsea fans were thrilled at the announcement. Abraham was handed the shirt ahead of Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud, making a statement about the importance youth would play this season as Lampard looked to use the resources he had available during Chelsea’s transfer ban.
Whilst many Chelsea fans were quick to take to social media to voice their support for Abraham and wish him luck in his new role in the club, there were of course a number of individuals who doubted his capability to perform at the top level.
Abraham impressed in pre-season. Fast, strong, tall and tactically aware, Abraham demonstrated the same hunger to score and ability to get himself into dangerous positions that made him a prolific goal-scorer during successful loan spells at Bristol City and Aston Villa.
Abraham’s highlight in pre-season came when he scored the opening goal in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Barcelona to win the Rakuten Cup in Japan.
When the Premier League season rolled around, Lampard selected Abraham as Chelsea’s starting striker for their opening fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Despite the result, Abraham contributed to the match with a good performance.
Unlucky not to score, the young Englishman hit the post in the fourth minute of the game. Once again, Abraham exhibited the characteristics of a promising young striker with plenty of potential and years ahead of him to continue his development.
As they searched for positives from their 4-0 defeat, Chelsea fans were full of praise for Abraham and fellow youngster Mason Mount, who both looked lively and exciting.
However, once again, there were a handful of fans that were not shy to express their criticism of the new No.9, suggesting that he wasn’t fit to lead the line.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with expressing your opinion. Part of the beauty of football is the conversations that it generates between fans.
An issue arises when the criticism becomes abusive.
Chelsea’s next fixture saw them take on the reigning Champions League holders Liverpool in Istanbul for the UEFA Super Cup. Abraham was subbed on in the 74th minute to replace Giroud, who scored the opening goal of the match.
Abraham finished the game as Chelsea drew 2-2 with Liverpool after extra time to take the match to penalties.
The shootout was tense. After having taken four penalties each, neither team had failed to find the back of the net. Mohamed Salah took Liverpool’s fifth, beating Kepa Arrizabalaga to convert the goal and put the pressure on Chelsea to score next.
With Blues fans feeling their hearts in their mouths and butterflies in their stomachs, Tammy Abraham emerged out of the crowd of Chelsea players, stepping up to take the penalty that would determine whether Chelsea would stay alive.
Abraham prepared for his penalty with a look of focus and calm. Unfortunately, the shot – which flew towards the middle of the goal – was controversially saved by Liverpool’s second-choice keeper Adrian, who was later shown to have been off his line before Abraham made contact with the ball.
Liverpool rejoiced, but Tammy Abraham was distraught. The miss evidently meant an awful lot to him as he struggled to hide his emotions. Immediately, Chelsea players crowded Abraham, embracing him and patting him on the back, providing their support.
Following the loss, social media served as a platform for hatred, as a handful of users took to Twitter to slate Abraham, using racial slurs and tagging him in death threats.
This caused uproar. The vast majority of Chelsea fans expressed their disgust, calling on Twitter to ban the offenders and distancing their club from the abuse.
Kick It Out – an organisation campaigning for equality in football – were also quick to express their support.
“We send our support to Tammy and reiterate our call for Twitter and other social companies to clamp down on this level of abuse,” they said.
Frank Lampard used his next press conference to address the issue, expressing his disgust for the incident.
“I am particularly disgusted by the so-called Chelsea fan,” Lampard said. “Abraham asked me to take the fifth penalty because he wanted to take it, wanted to stand up and be brave on a big night.”
Lampard went on to also call for social media to address the ever-present issue of online abuse and racism, placing emphasis on their role in allowing hate speech to have a platform free from punishment or censorship.
“I don’t know how it’s allowed on the platforms. It’s too easy to be done. Something needs to be done as well as people changing their mindsets completely,” Lampard said.
Abraham later took to social media to thank Chelsea fans for their ongoing support.
It is upsetting that we still live in a world where individuals feel the need to direct hatred at people based on the colour of their skin.
As being a professional footballer, Tammy Abraham is a 21-year-old human being. Nobody deserves to be subjected to such vile abuse. Football is a sport for everybody and Chelsea are a club that celebrates the diversity of its fans and players.
Although social media cannot end the issue of racism, it can help in limiting its voice. Both Lampard and Kick It Out have issued strong messages that leave the ball in Twitter’s court. A call has been made. It will be interesting to see if it is heard and answered.
As for Tammy Abraham, he will no doubt continue to develop over the course of this season, especially with regular Premier League playing time.
Based on the performances he has already provided, it would seem that the curse of Chelsea’s No.9 shirt may soon be coming to an end.