Since assuming office as the President of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Amaju Pinnick has never hidden his intention to woo players with Nigerian parentage, who have featured only in age-group competitions for foreign countries. So far, he has not done badly in that regard. However, one player who may have to wait much longer to wear the Eagles colours than he may have wished is British-born Tammy Abraham. It is not because he’s not doing well, but injury and out of the field action may cost him a national team invite, at least for now, writes Kunle Adewale
With the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, having concluded plans for two friendly international matches against Senegal and Burkina Faso on March 23 and 27 respectively, an opportunity for Coach Gernot Rohr to have a look at some of the home-based and new foreign-based players that are likely to be injected into the 2018 World Cup bound Eagles, Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham may have bungled a big opportunity of making an impression on Rohr.
Abraham, who is on loan to Bristol City, sustained a thigh injury during his club’s recent 2-1 loss at Leeds United and he has since returned to parent club, Chelsea for scans. The England Under-21 international limped off during the first half of the encounter.
Last month, Abraham was also involved in a car accident. At the time of the accident, he was driving without a licence or insurance and was summoned to court.
The 19-year-old has been in sensational form for the Championship side this season having bagged 21 goals in all competitions and has been a shining light in a poor season for the Robins.
Bristol City boss, Lee Johnson, said after the clash at Elland Road that 19-year-old feels the injury could be a serious one.
“Tammy Abraham has done something to his thigh. He’ll have a scan over the next day or two. He is gutted because he feels like it might be a bad one but hopefully that won’t be the case,” said Johnson.
Johnson has however revealed that scan showed that Abraham will be out for two to three weeks.
While Bristol City will not be happy that Abraham is injured, the extent is much better than initially feared as he is only out for two to three weeks.
“Tammy is a big loss, because of the goals he has scored for us this season, how he has been in training and what he has done for the team. But it could have been a lot worse and this is the best case scenario really. I’m quite pleased about that, because at one stage, it looked as though he might be out for six to eight weeks. We’ll miss Tammy, but we have other options and this gives a chance to someone else,” Johnson said.
During the English Football League, EFL, Cup against Fulham, Abraham came off the bench to score the winner and Johnson said: “Tammy is the trump card and he carried the weight for us once again. The world is his oyster; he can do anything he wants.”
Johnson has no doubts that his loaned hit-man is ready to lead the line for his parent club in the Premier League. But he however offered some words of advice to the teenage star.
He said: “He could go into Chelsea‘s team now, no doubt about that. The test will be, does he keep his feet on the ground? He needs to continue to love football and not be in love with being a footballer.”
Pinnick has indeed expressed optimism that some youngsters of Nigerian origin who are doing well in England and other leagues, including Chelsea’s Abraham will wear the Nigerian colours at the appropriate time, stating that Tammy was like his son to him, because he grew up with the lad’s father in the same neighbourhood and he vowed to bring him to play for Nigeria.
He said it had been in the plans of the present NFF board to build a young Super Eagles team ahead of the 2022 World Cup, adding that the federation was monitoring several Nigerian players that are making waves in the various leagues.
“The initial plan was to take our players in the various clubs, but now, what are trying to do is what we call VIP scouting – talking to these young players that are playing abroad to play for their father land.
“If you talk about Tammy, he is like my son, his father and I grew up in the same neighborhood. So, when they talk about him, I just laugh because I know what to do. I am yet to see a Nigerian that is regretting being a Nigerian. No Nigerian, even if they have four or five passports, they are always excited being Nigerians. I can assure you that we shall get them to play for us at appropriate time,” Pinnick said.
In an earlier chat with THISDAY, the NFF boss said Alex Nwobi’s decision to play for Nigeria as against playing for Three Lions of England earned him the respect he’s enjoying at Arsenal today.
“Nwobi started earning respect at his English club after he was given a national team call-up. Calling him to the national team made Arsenal to respect him and that is the truth. Today, he is one of the key players in Arsenal and we are proud of what federation had been able to do for his football,” Pinnick said.
He said the country boasts of one of the youngest best talents in world football today.
“Nigeria has the youngest and the most enterprising team in the world today. Today’s football is about youth, players between the ages of 18 and 21,” he noted.
Corroborating Pinnick’s stand, former Nigerian international, Tajudeen Disu, in an interview with THISDAY said youths were always the bedrock of any sport.
“If you look at most of the teams that dominated football in the world, they are always clubs with youths that grew up together. The Ajax team that won the Champions League in 1995 and went on to play in the final the following year were mostly youths that developed together.
“The same thing was what we experienced with the present Barcelona team that had dominated club’s football for almost a decade. It’s always an advantage if a team can boast of young players that develop together. Aside from the great understanding the players will enjoy, they will also dominate for a long time,” the former Captain of Abiola Babes of Abeokuta noted.
Abraham joined Chelsea at U-8 level and progressed through the clubs academy system. He was part of the Chelsea youth side which recorded back to back triumphs in both the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup in 2015 and 2016. In the 2016 edition of the UEFA Youth League, Abraham pitched in with a return of eight goals in nine matches, making him the tournament’s second highest goal scorer. He carried his form over in to the FA Youth Cup and scored the winning goal in Chelsea’s victory over Manchester City. During the 2014–15 and 2015–16 seasons he scored 74 goals in 98 matches across all competitions for Chelsea’s various youth sides.
His form at youth level caught the attention of interim manager, Guus Hiddink, who invited him to train with the senior team at the back end of the 2015-16 Season.
In May 2016, Hiddink handed Abraham his Chelsea debut in a 1–1 Premier League draw with Liverpool, before his home debut at Stamford Bridge the following week against Leicester.
In August 2016, Abraham signed for Championship side, Bristol City on a season-long loan from parent club Chelsea, with no recall clause, and was assigned the vacant number nine shirt upon arrival. He made his debut for the club the following day, coming off the bench to score City’s first goal in a 2–1 come-from-behind win over Wigan Athletic.
On 31 January 2017, Abraham scored his 16th Championship goal in the 2–2 draw against Sheffield Wednesday, thereby breaking the record of former Fulham striker, Moussa Dembele for the most goals scored by a teenager since the beginning of the Football League Championship era.
Abraham has represented England at both U-18 and U-19 level, but remains eligible to represent Nigeria through his father and has in the past been sounded out by the Nigerian Football Federation.