Antonio Conte doesn’t deal in hyperbole. Though the Italian has been a picture of fire and emotion on the sideline since his arrival at Chelsea last summer, in the press room he’s shown a completely different side.
Uncombative, cool and measured, the Blues boss, with his improving English, has always given the sense he carefully considers every word before letting them leave his mouth.
So it’s why it mattered when, in October, he delivered his assessment of young Blues striker Tammy Abraham: “He is the future for Chelsea, for sure."
That was in October, and Abraham had just opened the season with 11 goals in his first 17 appearances on loan at Bristol City in the Championship. Five months on, that goal tally now stands at 22 after the 19-year-old’s impressive strike played a leading role in the Robins’ 4-0 thrashing of high-flying Huddersfield Town on Friday.
Cutting across his marker just before half-time, Abraham met David Cotterill’s penetrating ball and tucked home a brilliant, first-time finish. It was another example of the remarkable prowess in the penalty area of a youngster who will see his FIFA 17 FUT rating on the rise.
Selected as one of Goal’s 50 Rising Stars of FUT, Abraham is the hottest talent to have emerged from the latest youth crop produced by the Chelsea academy.
Since joining the west London outfit in 2004, the striker has progressed through the ranks and enjoyed two sparkling seasons in front of goal in 2014-15 and 2015-16. With 74 goals in 98 games, Abraham powered Chelsea to consecutive FA Youth Cups and UEFA Youth League titles.
But youth football is not a perfect platform and both Chelsea and Abraham knew it.
After including him in the senior squad’s pre-season camps, the club sent the striker to Bristol City in August to get him both regular minutes and experience in dealing with the rigours of senior football.
It's been a breakout season for the towering, athletic striker who reminds many of Didier Drogba. Abraham has become the first teenager ever to score 16 or more goals in a Championship season. His 19 league strikes have him third in the division’s scoring charts, and he’s added a further three in cup play.
“There’s a massive difference [between youth football and senior football] because you’re coming up against players who are bigger, stronger and faster than you, so you have to try to find the weakness of your opponent and exploit that. It’s more about your mentality and looking after yourself,” he told Chelsea’s official website earlier this month.
The evidence available suggests he’s doing exactly that. Conte has spoken of Abraham’s “great potential in the technical and physical aspects”, but even he must be surprised by the speed of the youngster’s emergence.
When you’re 19, your goal tally in the league in your first senior season is not meant to match your age. But then, Abraham is not your typical 19-year-old. As Conte says, he’s the future of Chelsea.