Tomori’s Scudetto: ‘I’m drained and so happy’ – how a Chelsea boy conquered Italy with Milan

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“Scudetto” was the first Italian word Fikayo Tomori learned at Milan, but it’s safe to say he has a greater appreciation of what it means now.

“When I first came, everyone was talking about it,” he says The Athletic through a broad grin just outside Mapei Stadium in Reggio Emilia, where Milan claimed their first Serie A title since 2011 in style, with a 3-0 win over Sassuolo on Sunday. “In interviews they were saying it, so now that we have it… no words.”

Tomori is one of the last Milan players to emerge from the away dressing room into the warm Italian night air. Brahim Diaz has been going back and forth for some time with what appears to be a large group of friends and extended family, while Tiemoue Bakayoko has been milling around triumphantly puffing on a cigar with his own, smaller entourage. Spanish winger Samu Castillejo is beginning a determined quest to source a speaker for the team bus.

Despite having friends of his own at the match, Tomori will have to wait to share this moment with his parents, Mo and Yinka. “My dad was too scared to come to Sassuolo,” he explains. “Since Lazio (a game Milan won 2-1 on April 24) he’s been looking at the results, and when he sees the results then he watches the game afterwards. I think if we’d won it last week he would have come, but because we did not, him and my mum were too scared. They’re hopefully flying over tomorrow (Monday) and we can celebrate together. “

Perhaps the timing is for the best. Tomori looks almost as weary as he does happy after 81 minutes of football, navigating two separate pitch invasions and dressing-room revelry. “The thing is, I know the party’s just starting,” he says seemingly with a mixture of excitement and resignation. “I’ve lost all my energy, I’ve lost my voice. I’m just drained, but I’m so happy we managed to do it. All the hard work we did the whole season, to have the Scudetto is mad. ”


It was supposed to be something of a nail-biter, with the potential to rival the pendulum of drama witnessed in the Premier League as Manchester City crumpled to the canvas before dragging themselves up to beat Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium. Milan knew a draw would be enough to be crowned champions but faced, on paper, a tricky assignment away at Sassuolo, who beat them 3-1 at San Siro in November. Inter, meanwhile, started the day two points behind and with an inferior head-to-head record, but had seemingly little to fear from a home match against lowly Sampdoria.

Instead, it was a celebration from the start. Milan supporters traveled to Reggio Emilia in their tens of thousands in anticipation of history being made, lining the road to Mapei stadium and welcoming the arrival of their team bus as if already at a trophy parade. Once inside, it became clear that Sassuolo’s home, Citta del Tricolore (“the city of the tricolor”) had in fact been transformed into a heaving mass of red and black; in addition to the Curva Sud ultras, Milan supporters had taken over the east and west tribunes and could even be found in the stand housing the home ultras.

Sassuolo’s players were met with a barrage of whistles as they ran out onto their own pitch to warm up, while the Milan squad were welcomed with a roar reserved for heroes. A giant typhoon held up by the Curva Sud bore the words “NOI SEMPRE CON TE” (“We’re always with you”).

Milan’s defense, with Tomori as its most consistent rock, was what had put them in this position; eight clean sheets in the previous 10 Serie A matches had provided the foundation for eight wins and two draws, making Inter’s 2-1 away defeat to Bologna at the end of April look a fatal stumble. But here Stefano Pioli put his faith in his attack, getting his players to jump on Sassuolo from the first whistle.

Within the first 10 minutes, Olivier Giroud had a powerful header beaten away by Andrea Consigli, Rafael Leao was stifled by a desperate Gian Marco Ferrari sliding block and Tomori was only denied his first Serie A goal of the season by a Maxime Lopez goalline clearance from a Theo Hernandez corner, as the deafening Curva Sud attempted to suck the ball into the Sassuolo goal.


Milan celebrate their title win (Photo: Luca Amedeo Bizzarri / LiveMedia / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Milan’s intensity was smothering. Tomori and impressive young French center-back partner Pierre Kalulu defended on the front foot, each taking turns to nip in front of the dangerous, lanky figure of Gianluca Scamacca while the other covered the space behind. Sandro Tonali and Franck Kessie shuttled energetically in midfield, but it was the unanswerable speed, strength and skill of Leao on the left flank that broke the match open.

He first blew past his man in the 17th minute, arriving in a crossing position and waiting just long enough for Giroud to dart into shooting space. The pass was on target and the low finish squeezed through the legs of a defender and Consigli. He did it again in the 32nd minute, this time escaping a double team and cutting the ball back to give Giroud an open net. Four minutes later he switched to the right, picking out Kessie arriving late in the Sassuolo box to slam in Milan’s third.

At the other end Tomori and Kalulu worked together seamlessly to ensure Scamacca, scorer of 16 Serie A goals this season and reportedly a priority summer target for Inter, never threatened Mike Maignan’s goal. Until a lively cameo from Hamed Traore in the closing minutes, Sassuolo were invariably reduced to speculative Domenico Berardi shots from outside the box.

Earlier this season, Pioli said in an interview with The Observer that Tomori could use his speed to wait for opponents to commit rather than trying to anticipate their moves, and here he was the model of tactical minimalism. Mostly his positioning steered Sassuolo towards trying to play around him rather than through him, but on the rare occasions when they did, he deployed his speed; on the hour mark Berardi initiated a one-two with Giacomo Raspadori and tried to run in behind, only for a precision Tomori slide to take the ball away to a roar of appreciation from the Curva Sud.

Milan’s first-half blitz rendered the second half a time for fun. Giroud bowed out on 72 minutes to be replaced by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who momentarily broke the Mexican waves rippling around Mapei Stadium when he powered in a header from another Leao cross – but from an offside position. Nine minutes from the end, Tomori got his ovation to allow the introduction of club captain Alessio Romagnoli, the man he has so comprehensively displaced from this team.

Tomori’s 81 minutes played took his Serie A season tally to 2,449, more than any other outfielder in Pioli’s squad – a fact that took him by surprise when The Athletic brought it to his attention after the match. Milan’s last league champions in 2010-11 were led in similarly ever-present style by another dominant center-back. His name? Thiago Silva.

The moment he crossed the touchline, Tomori could no longer check his emotions. A double fist-pump preceded a long, elated embrace with Pioli and then he made his way slowly along the vast Milan dugout, hugging every team-mate and member of staff. Soon he was back alongside Giroud, the former Chelsea team-mate he encouraged to “Come to Milan and let’s win the Scudetto” last summer. The two men exchanged a mock formal handshake and then stood, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, waiting for the final whistle.

When it came, the bedlam unfolded in two rapid stages. No sooner had Tomori and the rest of the Milan players and staff sprinted onto the pitch than they started looking for ways back to the tunnel, having been swiftly swarmed by supporters streaming down from the stands in all directions. At the end of a week dominated by controversial pitch invasions, there was no hint of violence here, but the level of joyful boisterousness created the possibility of accidental harm.

After indulging in selfies and songs, the crowd acquiesced to the trophy presentation and returned to the stands. Milan players re-emerged from the tunnel one at a time with the air of rock stars about to perform an encore – particularly Ibrahimovic, a personality made for such moments. Soon it was the turn of Tomori, smiling and pumping his arms as he walked up to receive the first championship medal of his professional career.

Very few of those watching wore shirts bearing his name; a sign, perhaps, of just how quickly this has all happened for Tomori at a club with no shortage of idols in its recent past. But there is plenty of time for that to change, and he has started to write his own illustrious story.


Chelsea supporters watching Tomori revel in such a triumph could be forgiven for finding their pride tinged with sadness. It was impossible not to draw a direct connection with events earlier on Sunday at Stamford Bridge, where Antonio Rudiger bade an emotional farewell before leaving for Real Madrid as a free agent, while Andreas Christensen, also set to depart, was nowhere to be seen. Cesar Azpilicueta paid his respects to the crowd without knowing for certain what his future holds, but mindful of the distinct possibility that he, too, has reached the end in west London.

Only three days in January 2021 separated Tomori’s departure for Milan on an initial six-month loan deal and Frank Lampard’s sacking. That the arrival of Thomas Tuchel precipitated an immediate shift to a three-man defense only deepened the sense of a sliding-doors moment for many Chelsea supporters – even if Tomori insists he never viewed it that way.

“Once I came to Milan, I wanted to be here,” he adds. “I saw how motivated the team was, how motivated the coach was. When I came it was COVID, so fans could not come into the stadiums, but I could still feel the San Siro, the fans. Ever since I’ve been here, from the first minute, it’s been amazing. I could not have asked for anything more, and to finish the season with something like the Scudetto is indescribable. ”

At the time, The Athletic was told that Lampard had concerns about Tomori’s level in training during his spell out of the team. Looking back at the glow of a title win, he has a different perspective. “A year and a half ago, I was at Chelsea, not playing a lot… well, not at all,” he says. “It’s difficult to stay motivated at that time, because you do not know what’s going to happen. If someone would have told me, ‘In a year and a half, you’ll win the Scudetto with Milan’, I would have thought they were crazy. “

Within that context, Pioli’s markedly different approach has been appreciated. “My goal when I came was just to give all I could,” Tomori adds. “It had been a while since I’d played. I was given the opportunity to play and I was so happy, so grateful for that. The manager, all the team supported me and showed faith in me the minute I came here. Even despite injuries, the manager has kept faith in me. Times when maybe I did not do the right things on the pitch, made mistakes, had lapses in concentration, the manager kept playing me and showing me faith. ”

Tomori can’t tell yet, amid the flurry of messages landing in his phone as we talk, whether he has received congratulations from former Chelsea team-mate and childhood friend Tammy Abraham but, given the regularity of their contact in Italy, it’s a decent bet. “Tammy and I were talking and we said hopefully I win the Scudetto and he wins the Conference League on Wednesday,” he says. “I was going to cheer him on anyway but now we’ve done this, I’ll cheer him on even more.”

Our conversation over, Tomori is ushered across to the broadcast section of the mixed zone where he proceeds to give a TV interview in impressive Italian. His rhythm is only broken by the return of Castillejo, walking back towards the Milan team bus with a speaker blaring music under his left arm.

Tomori has helped make Milan champions again, and Milan have helped make Tomori everything Chelsea hoped he would become. This historic Scudetto might be just the beginning.

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