Fikayo Tomori has settled right in at AC Milan as he shed some light on his decision to leave Chelsea and his start to life in Italy.
Tomori was Milan’s last addition of the January transfer window as he arrived from Chelsea on a six-month loan with an option to buy set at €28-30m, depending on which source you believe. He has already made a handful of appearances and has been impressive thus far, showing he has a completely different set of qualities to the other centre-backs in the squad.
Tomori spoke to The Telegraph about his new experience in a new country thus far, beginning by discussing how he was ‘thrown in at the deep end’ when he made his debut against Inter in the just four days after moving to Milan.
“Alexis Sanchez got the ball and the manager had said to get close to their attackers, so when he got the ball I decided to go straight in. I fouled him and Zlatan was like (claps his hands), ‘That is it, that is what you should do, be aggressive, it’s good’. So, obviously, that was a bit of an early boost for me,” he said.
The paper spoke to Tomori on a video call after he had just finished the latest of his Italian classes, showing that he is fully throwing himself into his new experience.
“There’s definitely a vibe to Zlatan. He’s a leader and he’s got a presence, but he’s different from his public image. He’s 39 and won all these trophies and scored all these goals, and he’s saying, ‘We’re going to defend together. When I go, you come with me. When we score, we celebrate together’.
“Every day before training he’s in the gym, he’s doing core. One time, one of the conditioners was like, ‘Yeah, just join in with Zlatan doing a core session’, and it was a tough one! At his age, he’s not just driving himself but dragging everyone else with him and setting standards. And that self-confidence in himself helps to bring out the self-confidence in the team.”
Tomori also spoke about how one of the biggest legends in the club’s history approached him about leaving Chelsea in January in Paolo Maldini.
“My agent told me Milan wanted to speak to me and he asked me if I knew who the technical director is. He said it was Paolo Maldini and I was like, ‘Oh’,” he said.
“Obviously I wasn’t going to say no, so I said yeah let’s talk for sure. And then we had a scheduled Zoom call and he was just there on the screen in front of me. It was like, ‘Whoa’. He spoke English to me perfectly and it was surreal, it was strange. I got off the call and I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve just spoken to Paolo Maldini’. The only thing I needed to think about was moving to another country, but, other than that, I was sold on it.
“Maldini’s at the training ground every day. After games as well and he will always say, ‘Congratulations, well done’. Even if it’s just a passing comment or a ‘well done’, the fact I’m a defender and it’s come from him, it fills you with pride. It’s like Lionel Messi saying well done to a young attacker. It’s special.
“I know that Italy is notorious for creating and producing the world’s best defenders. Serie A has the world’s best defenders, I know that. They pride themselves on positioning and the philosophy of defending, being able to think about where you are at a specific point or why you’re standing here or where you need to pass the ball. Where you need to be in relation to a different person, which is different to the Premier League.
“The Premier League is a lot of instinct, high speed and a lot of physical work. I’ve grown up on that and it suits me, but being here and learning how the manager wants me to play, I’m thinking about my game a lot more. That definitely was an attraction and I’m really trying to relish the experience and develop myself as much as possible, however long I’m here.”
The first half of last season back at Chelsea was fantastic for Tomori as he was a constant starter in Lampard’s team, which won him his first England cap and he signed a new five-year contract too. However, things then went downhill.
“I was suddenly out of the squad and I don’t really know why. I just thought I needed to work hard. Then I went to speak to the manager and he said you’ve just got to train harder, so I took that on the chin and thought that’s what I had to do,” Tomori added.
“Mentally, it was difficult because you just want to be playing and on the pitch, and feel part of the team. And it was difficult for me because I wasn’t really feeling part of the team and I was wondering what had happened. I was trying to do extra and push myself more but, at that time, nothing seemed to work and nothing was explained to me.
“It was so frustrating. 2020, football-wise, was very, very difficult, especially after the way 2019 had gone for me playing games. From being at 100 to literally going down to zero and then not knowing the reason why it had gone to zero, it was very challenging.
“I was thinking that after the way the previous six months had gone, the best thing for me to do was to go on loan and get some games and come back to Chelsea with a full season in the Premier League behind me. I was ready to go and I wasn’t allowed to because the manager said I was in his plans.
“Then, a few hours before the deadline, I got a call saying the manager had said I could go to West Ham and it was a shock because this hadn’t been in the conversation at all.
“I like to think I’m pretty logical and I think things through and, together with my dad and my agent, my plan had been that if Everton didn’t happen, I had to be prepared to stay at Chelsea. By the time the West Ham offer came, it was too late to just switch that mentality with no time to think about it.”
He holds no grudges about Lampard’s treatment of him though: “I will always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me. Maybe because of our history he thought I would accept it, but from my perspective, with that history, it felt more personal and harder to understand.
“I don’t know what happened, it wasn’t really explained to me. Soon after joining Milan, the manager sent me a positive message. It was an unusual situation – I wasn’t at Chelsea any more and he wasn’t the manager. With all he had going on, it was a nice thing to take the time to do. I appreciated that. I wouldn’t say there is a bad feeling, it just is what it is. I’ve learned to look forward and I’m stronger for the experience.
“That was a challenging time mentally, but carrying it with me isn’t going to be good for me. I made a promise to myself that now I’m in Milan, the next months or until whenever, I’ve got to be focused on what I’m doing here.
“Everybody would love to live a fairytale, but football and life is not a fairytale. I’m not saying I’m never going to be at Chelsea again. But at this time I’m not a Chelsea player, I’m at Milan and I have to be focused on here and, who knows, I could have a fairytale in Milan.”
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