Tomori left Chelsea to became a Serie A winner at AC Milan, and is privileged to talk with Paolo Maldini as well as study Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini
Image: Claudio Villa / AC Milan via Getty Images)
Fikayo Tomori went to Italy to learn the art of defending and has ended up as a champion.
Tomori, 24, has enjoyed the best season of his career, helping AC Milan win the Serie A title while taking lessons from legends like Paolo Maldini and becoming more “streetwise” after studying Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. Three Lions defender Tomori is one of a new generation of young English players who have moved abroad to further their careers and improve themselves both on and off the pitch.
Former Chelsea defender Tomori is bright, sharp and eloquent. He took up an Open University degree in Business Management, he is already fluent in Italian after 18 months at the San Siro and, best of all, he helped Milan win their first title in 11 years in his first full season. It sparked wild celebrations not just in the dressing room but also in the city.
“Everyone was just so happy,” said Tomori. “No one expected us to do it. We knew we could, so when you do it it feels even better. The partying in the streets was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. “It was like a 3, 4, 5-kilometer drag but it took hours. Stopping at all the lights. It was crazy. Being there for that time, it was mad.”
Tomori had no hesitation about moving to Italy when AC Milan came in and moves abroad have helped develop his England team-mates like Jude Bellingham, Tammy Abraham and Jadon Sancho. He has already won two caps, center-half is the area arguably causing Gareth Southgate most concern with a first-choice back three far from settled. Meanwhile, Tomori has won the title in a country synonymous with the art of defending.
AC Milan via Getty Images)
Milan legend Maldini is the club’s technical director, he met Franco Baresi at the title-winning celebrations and there has been a close-up look at Juventus pair Bonucci and Chiellini who were the defensive wall which helped Italy win the Euros at England’s expense. Tomori said: “Obviously I speak to Paolo – he is there every day. He does not really say much, he leaves that to the manager, but sometimes we do have a little chat and he asks me how things are going and speaks to us defenders as a collective.
“I remember after the last game I saw Baresi which was kind of cool. Not just defenders but you see different legends just flying about. Every time it happens you think: ‘Woah, this is mad.’ “I think it’s the way they are as defenders in Italy. It’s like: ‘I need to make sure what I’m doing is on the money and no-one’s getting past me no matter what.’ They have that pride to be like: ‘I am the big defender’ – not in an arrogant way but just in football terms of wanting to be the best they can be.
“Little things like the manager will tell me: ‘Make sure you are blocking a run’, or: ‘Make sure you are not allowing this to happen or getting contact in the box’. Those little things happen. Being there and watching the likes of Bonucci and Chiellini, all these kinds of defenders, you see the things they do and they are very streetwise. When I see that I want to try to put that into my game.
“Obviously they have been doing that for a very long time but being in Italy you definitely pick up those little things and you see those little things that they do and the way they are. You can learn so much. I think people are more open to it now. Sancho was the first to do it, Chris Smalling is in Italy as well, then Jude; Tammy. When I heard AC Milan were interested, I just said: ‘Where do I sign?’ We’ve gone there, got our heads down and shown it’s not such a strange thing to do. “
Tomori’s progress has been such a success story in Italy but he has – until now – almost gone under the radar in England. He went largely unnoticed when he watched England’s Euros quarter final win over Ukraine with his mates at BOXPARK in Shoreditch. But if he maintains his club form at international level, then that will definitely change.