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How Fikayo Tomori revived his career at Milan after falling out of favor at Chelsea

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Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta, Nesta… Playing in AC Milan’s defense is like playing in the shadow of giants.

But in Fikayo Tomori, the Italian club may have just found a worthy heir to these legends of the game.

The 23-year-old has certainly done well since he finalized his loan from Chelsea at the start of the season and the rewards keep coming.

Fikayo Tomori flourished at AC Milan after Italian club made his Chelsea loan permanent

The England centre-back was praised by Paolo Maldini and Fabio Capello last season after a series of impressive performances in the defense of Milan.

The England centre-back was praised by Paolo Maldini and Fabio Capello last season after a series of impressive performances in the defense of Milan.

Tomori was called up to the England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary, with every chance he will add to his only cap he has earned to date.

Gareth Southgate praised Tomori’s ‘aggressiveness, speed and use of the ball’ after announcing his latest squad and he is certainly not the only one who was impressed.

Paolo Maldini, now Milan’s technical director, described Tomori as ‘a player with interesting qualities’, meaning he admired his pace of work and energy.

Legendary centre-back Franco Baresi said he was “one of the most exciting prospects” during Tomori’s loan spell.

Former Milan and England manager Fabio Capello says Tomori is a ‘very good player’ and ‘Milan is lucky to have such a fast defender.’

A music video of Tomori applying one of the cleanest recovery tacks you’ll ever see to expropriate Atalanta’s Matteo Pessina last weekend drew a lot of interest online.

Tomori has established himself as Stefano Pioli's first choice as central defender for Milan

Tomori has established himself as Stefano Pioli’s first choice as central defender for Milan

Tomori could add to the only senior England cap he already has when Gareth Southgate's side play Andorra and Hungary in the World Cup qualifiers this week

Tomori could add to the only senior England cap he already has when Gareth Southgate’s side play Andorra and Hungary in the World Cup qualifiers this week

Milan club legend and technical director Paolo Maldini is among those impressed by Tomori

Milan club legend and technical director Paolo Maldini is among those impressed by Tomori

And Tomori has started all but one of Milan’s seven Serie A games so far this season, losing just two points to finish second in the table.

He also played the full 90 minutes in both Champions League games against Liverpool and Atletico Madrid – albeit with less success as they lost both – to confirm his status as coach Stefano Pioli’s number 1 choice in central defence.

English defenders have traditionally been looked down upon by Italian coaches, but all the evidence to date suggests Tomori will be good value for his £25million summer transfer fee.

It may seem harsh on the club that gave Tomori his football education, but it’s likely none of these accolades or England’s appeal would have happened if he were still at Chelsea.

There’s a good chance he’ll be scrambling for game time behind Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger and even Trevoh Chalobah.

A start in the third round of the Carabao Cup perhaps, or 20 minutes off the bench in the competition leading 3-0?

Tomori played under Frank Lampard when he was loaned out to Derby and was briefly a first-choice defender when Lampard landed the job at Chelsea the following season.

Tomori played under Frank Lampard when he was loaned out to Derby and was briefly a first-choice defender when Lampard landed the job at Chelsea the following season.

They had come painfully close to taking Derby through the play-offs to the Premier League

They had come painfully close to taking Derby through the play-offs to the Premier League

But Tomori fell into the pecking order midway through Lampard's first season

But Tomori fell into the pecking order midway through Lampard’s first season

Instead, his career has finally taken hold that everyone had imagined two years ago when Frank Lampard beat him at the start of his first season.

Having seen Tomori’s abilities firsthand during his Derby loan spell the previous year, Lampard put his full faith in the youngster, starting him in 11 Premier League and four Champions League appearances during the first half of the season.

But things soon stalled out with Rudiger, Christensen and Kurt Zouma all favored by Lampard as the campaign progressed, plus some bad luck with injuries.

Between New Year’s Day 2020 and the end of the Covid-disrupted season at the end of July, Tomori played just 64 minutes of Premier League football and two early FA Cup games.

Ironically, Tomori had just signed a five-year deal, days before his 22nd birthday in December 2019, the defender described as ‘a dream come true’.

Tomori with Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia after signing his five-year contract

Tomori with Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia after signing his five-year contract

Tomori's last game for Chelsea turned out to be an FA Cup draw against Morecambe in January

Tomori’s last game for Chelsea turned out to be an FA Cup draw against Morecambe in January

Tomori felt that dropping was something personal about Lampard, telling the Telegraph: “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 hasn’t really been explained to me. Shortly after he joined Milan, the manager [Lampard] sent me a positive message. It was an unusual situation – I was no longer with Chelsea and he was not the manager.

‘with all hey’ [Lampard] was going on, it was nice to take the time for that. I appreciated that. I wouldn’t say there’s a bad feeling, it just is what it is.’

In retrospect, Lampard admitted that Tomori was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“It was a difficult story in the end because we had too many central defenders and I really wanted to help him, but I’m not sure he really understood that,” Lampard said last month.

“It’s hard when you’re at the highest level because it’s so hot and there are always difficult periods for young players.”

With Silva arriving for Lampard’s second season, playing time for Tomori was further limited and he would play just 45 minutes of league action, two Carabao Cup ties and 10 minutes in the FA Cup against Morecambe before moving to Milan on loan in January. would go.

Loan moves are a rite of passage for pretty much every Chelsea academy graduate – Tomori had been to Brighton and Hull before Derby – but when they come after you’ve briefly established yourself as a first-team regular, it’s a more miserable situation.

But instead of sulking, Tomori focused on performing for Milan and acquiring as much knowledge about the art of defense as he could.

Tomori immediately impressed during his loan to Milan and even scored against Juventus

Tomori immediately impressed during his loan to Milan and even scored against Juventus

The defender's speed, both with and without the ball, has impressed even club legends from Milan

The defender’s speed, both with and without the ball, has impressed even club legends from Milan

He formed a solid partnership as a central defender with Danish international Simon Kjaer and helped Milan finish second in Serie A, albeit well behind champions Inter.

Nevertheless, it returned the club to the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14, ending what became a prolonged and quite embarrassing absence for the seven-time winners.

It wasn’t entirely clear if Milan could afford Tomori’s £25m asking price, but their return to the Champions League allowed them to close that deal and make Sandro Tonali’s loan from Brescia permanent and buy goalkeeper Mike Maignan. .

For the record, they also signed a Chelsea player in the form of striker Olivier Giroud.

It has been a good move for everyone involved. Tomori has been given the playing time needed to develop his game, Milan have been given a top-quality defender with strong resale value and Chelsea have been given a decent price for a fringe player.

The only risk for the Blues is if they regret not having included a buyback clause.

Tomori has now returned to the England squad for the Andorra and Hungary matches

Tomori has now returned to the England squad for the Andorra and Hungary matches

The revival of Tomori’s career in England is another step forward. He got his first senior call-up and made his debut in the dead rubber Euro 2020 qualifier away to Kosovo in November 2019, six minutes from the bench.

His form on loan at Milan came too late to force himself into the Euro 2020 battle, but Tomori should focus on next year’s World Cup.

With Harry Maguire injured, John Stones barely playing for Man City and Joe Gomez gently being brought back into international football, Tomori could very well play as Southgate shakes the pack against Andorra on Saturday night, as it seems likely.

Tomori and Maldini speak before every game and there aren’t many better ones to talk to about the finer points of defending.

It may not be quite how Tomori envisioned his career two years ago, but sometimes things happen in football for a reason.

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