After yet another long and drawn-out saga with Chelsea, Milan finally got their man as Fikayo Tomori arrived a six-month loan with an option to buy at €28m.
It brings an end to the Rossoneri’s pursuit of a centre-back which seems to have been going on for months and months now, but those who are not avid watchers of the Premier League may not know too much about the 23-year-old…
Oluwafikayomi Oluwadamilola Tomori was born in Calgary (Alberta, Canada) to Nigerian parents before they headed to England when he was a toddler. A defender by profession, Tomori is a product of the famous Cobham Academy (Chelsea youth team).
Tomori – along with fellow graduates Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Loftus Cheek, Andreas Christensen – were part of the success that the Chelsea Youth academy has enjoyed since the start of the decade. During his tenure in the youth set up, won two FA Youth Cups and they won the UEFA Youth League twice recently, making Chelsea the most successful team in the short history of the competition.
They were victorious in the 2014-15 edition, beating Shaktaar Donetsk in a final which Tomori did not feature in, but he was an integral part of Chelsea’s triumph in the 2015-16 edition. Another personal milestone was achieved in the same season when he came on against the then-champions Leicester City in the Premier League making his full senior team debut.
We all know by now that the Premier League is one of the most competitive leagues in the world and is one that is known to make or break players’ careers, so the management were wise to the situation.
In January 2017, Tomori was loaned to Brighton for six months and then to Hull City for 2017-18 campaign, racking up a total of 36 games combined for both clubs
His big break came when Frank Lampard was appointed the coach of Derby County. Lampard used his relations with Chelsea to loan Tomori, Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. Tomori played 55 times for Derby in the 2018-19 season, took Derby to play-off finals and was rightfully named Derby’s player of the season.
Good news came for Tomori when Lampard was appointed the coach of Chelsea after the Blues were handed a transfer ban by FIFA. Tomori got his chance in a game against Liverpool, and his performance against Salah – in which he kept a tight check on one of the best players in Europe – earned plaudits.
However in a bizarre turn of events Tomori has only played 45 minutes this season in the Premier League with the centre-back being relegated to a fifth-choice option with no rhyme or reason from the now ex-Chelsea boss Lampard.
Style of play
Lampard had used a variety of formations for Chelsea last season alternating between a three-man and four-man defence. Tomori often slotted into the team partnering Kurt Zouma and Cesar Azpilicueta in a back 3 formation.
In modern football, recovery pace is the prime requisite for a top defender. With teams always looking to press high, managers need their rearguard to maintain a high line and this makes them susceptible to counter-attacks.
Tomori’s prime strength is his pace, an attribute that enables him to track the runs of even the quickest wingers and forward players and get to loose balls first before the opposition player
Aggressive defending and pressing
Tomori’s natural instinct is to be proactive in defending which is to stop attacks at its embryonic stages before the opposition can get the ball into dangerous areas. Often he leaves his station and challenges the player in possession which manifests into a two-fold advantage if a turnover occurs. The first is that the attack gets killed before it advances, and the second is that it helps to start a possible counter-attack
A legend of the game himself, Maldini in an interview spoke about how modern defenders need to be good in one-on-one duels against their attackers. This – along with physical ability – is a skill that cannot be taught but is in-born talent. Tomori with his quick feet has a good 1v1 success ratio, is not shy going into challenges and often comes out with the ball against some elite attackers.
Positioning and interceptions
A very important skill for defenders, if attacks advance, is to position themselves in the right areas to stifle any shots or any runs the opposition can muster. For this, anticipation is a virtue that defenders need. Tomori has a very good knack of getting into good positions as we saw against the Coppa Italia game against Inter where he was in the right place at the right time, stopping a goal bound shot from Lukaku for example.
Tomori has the ability to read contextual clues such as body orientation of the passer, reading passing moves and has great tactical awareness to guess what the next move of the opposition will be.
Areas to improve
Like every prospect Tomori has a few creases to iron out on in his game…
Tomori stands at 185cm tall and therefore is not aerially dominant in there which is a deficit to his repertoire. While he has a good leap and heads the ball away, he is not the tallest when defending set-pieces or while attacking the ball during an attacking corner. Pioli and Murelli will need to work with Tomori in the training field, while Maldini can impart some wisdom no doubt.
Tomori’s aggression comes at a cost. If he does not win the ball back from the player he is pressing then it compromises the shape and structure of his defence and leaves space behind which can be attacked with an expert No.10 or a good winger.
The Englishman needs to time his aggressive press better and not expose his backline. Playing alongside a more experienced centre-back like Alessio Romagnoli or Simon Kjaer can help Tomori work on this flaw. But first Tomori needs to bridge the communication gap.
Passing out from the back
Modern defenders are expected to be good passers along with being a good defender. This is because modern tactics involve playing out from the back which requires shifting the ball quickly before the opponents close down, which can lead to a very straightforward chance for the opposition if it goes wrong.
Tomori is not the best passer of the ball and makes errors when he is put under pressure by the opponent. At Chelsea, Lampard would have Jorginho or Kovacic to play closer to Tomori and have the deep-lying playmaker bring the ball out from the back rather than cause a turnover by having Tomori play a risky pass.
Deal or no deal
Ever since Milan signed Romagnoli as a young prospective centre-back, Milan have tried a variety of players to partner him until Kjaer settled in. However with Kjaer into his 30’s Milan have been actively searching for a young central defender.
Milan were out priced for Fofana, pulled out of the Simakan race due to injury concerns and showed interest in Loic Bade and Ozan Kabak. However, as Maldini mentioned later Milan had been tracking Tomori’s progress for a year and while a deal was not easy to conclude Milan finally got their man on favourable terms.
Tomori – as he revealed to Milan TV – jumped at the opportunity to work under Maldini and for Milan who have been doing very well in the league. He fit Maldini’s description in what he wants in a defender: fast, direct, aggressive and good in 1v1s – the perfect player.
With Milan agreeing a six-month loan with a €28m option to buy, the club always have the option of sending him back if he does not fall within the plans of Pioli.
Transfer rating: 7.5/10