The case of Fikayo Tomori is a rare one in football. With English footballers now more open to try out opportunities abroad, it is becoming a more common sight to see an English star move away from England. But it is much more rare to see a Premier League-bred player move away from England and win trophies there. Tomori has done that with Milan, having played a huge role in the Rossoneri’s Scudetto triumph under Stefano Pioli last season.
Now having settled in very well at the San Siro and rather fluent with Italian, Tomori’s resilience off the pitch mirrors his resilence at the back for the Rossoneri as well. For some, the ex-Chelsea defender was always meant to achieve big things in his career but doing that in the storied lands of Italy wasn’t something many expected. In an interview with OneFootball as part of the FedEx Next in Line series, Tomori credits his father for imbibing him with the ability to overcome challenges on and off the pitch.
“Growing up, my dad very much was the pusher and he always wanted me to do more. He understands me, I think probably more than most people. Yeah, he says everything yields to diligence, not just in football but in life, he’s like, if you work hard at something, if you apply yourself and you really want it, then what you put the work into will have its rewards, will have the results.”
That hardwork is what led to the defender’s permanent move to Milan in the summer of 2021 – months after he had initially joined the Diavolo on loan from Chelsea. There were periods during Milan’s march to the Scudetto when Pioli had to struggle with numerous injury issues across the board and despite Tomori’s brief spell out injured early in 2022, he became a reliable force at the back for Milan. In the absence of veteran Simon Kjaer, Tomori took it upon himself to play alongside a younger teammate in Pierre Kalulu. While improving himself amidst challenges, his abilities also helped the Frenchman reach a new level.
He gelled into Italy’s structured approach to the game early too and he admits that this change in footballing culture made him think about his own playing style more.
He told OneFootball: “When I arrived here, I definitely had to think about my game more. In Italy, it’s more about, okay, this is where you need to be when the ball is here. This is how your body needs to be. This is where you should pass the ball. This is how you should pass the ball.
“It was more specific, and you know how the manager wants you to play in relation to what the team is doing, which is different to England. In England, you know, you can play on instinct. I think in Italy they’re trying to eliminate that as much as possible where you know what you’re doing and you know how the team is playing, where you need to pass the ball.”
Despite having become one of Serie A’s best defenders already though, Tomori still wants to take his skillset to another level. He is known to possess the ball-playing qualities of a modern-day defender, but the 25-year-old vows to improve that aspect of his game too.
“Long passing is part of my game. Being a central defender, sometimes I need to play the ball long. So yeah, it’s something that I’m definitely working on. It’s kind of getting the technique, being comfortable doing it off both sides because I’m playing on the left side, sometimes I just have to do it off my left foot.”
Tomori was not available for Milan’s recent 1-0 win over Tottenham in the Champions League, but he is expected to be fit for a huge second leg in London. He is no stranger to London, but he harbours big goals for himself at the San Siro and he isn’t satisfied with just one Scudetto win.
He doesn’t want to have regrets in his career and winning everything he can with the Rossoneri is a big goal of his. He seeks to make the most of the opportunities he is given at the Italian giants.
“I think my dream in life might sound a bit cliche, but I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to be able to say at the end of it, I did everything I could, allowed myself to be myself. I allowed myself to do I wanted to do in the right way. And I think, you know, at the end of that, if I win a million trophies or if I just have the Scudetto, in myself, I can say I did everything I needed to do, I’m content in what I’ve done.
“Then, of course, in the same breath, a dream is to win the Champions League. A dream is to win the World Cup, win Scudetto again, win every trophy possible that I can with Milan as I’m here.”
The Scudetto might be largely out of reach for Milan this season, but the Champions League offers a unique chance to bring the club back to past glories and the win over Spurs suggests that Tomori’s side are on the right track. With his return, the club’s chances of progressing will only increase.
Kaustubh Pandey | GIFN