Fikayo Tomori proud to carry the weight of expectations for AC Milan in Serie A title bid
It says a lot about Fikayo Tomori’s budding profile that he has been chosen by AC Milan for the club’s visit to Dubai this week.
The England centre-back, who signed permanently with Serie A leaders Chelsea last June after spending six months on loan, is in the emirate for a few days as Milan take part in several fan events around of Expo 2020.
On Tuesday morning, Tomori joined teammate Brahim Diaz for a panel discussion with members of Milan’s Middle East fan clubs – Bahrain and Kuwait were among those represented – before visiting the Expo 2020 site to forward to kids a special training session at the AC Milan Academy event. And then a Q&A with the club’s UAE-based supporters.
At just 24, it underlines Tomori’s stature and standing among Italy’s 18-time champions.
“Of course,” said Tomori The National between events at his Dubai hotel. “I feel the weight of the club, you can feel how important it is in the world, the history and the importance. And for me to be here, it’s a great opportunity to represent the club.
“I feel like since I’ve been here, I’ve also grown as a person. I developed not only on the pitch, but also off the pitch. So I feel really good.
This personal progress already extends to his fluency in the language, with Tomori quite impressively conducting comprehensive interviews in Italian whenever needed. He also embraces the culture, smiling that he’s developed a taste for coffee – “trying to be a real Italian” – even if he hasn’t quite forgotten his English roots with a cup of tea at the House.
Born in Canada to Nigerian parents, Tomori moved to England with his family when he was a year old and came through Chelsea academy to represent both the senior team and, last year, the national team. ‘England.
He was disappointed, of course, not to be in Gareth Southgate’s last squad – a surprise to many – but said: “There are so many good players in my position, obviously I’m not allowed to to be in the team. Every player, his dream is to play in the World Cup. So with my eye on that at the end of the season, I know the only way to get there is to play well for Milan.
“Try to win the league even more so I can get into it. I just have to keep playing well for Milan, keep working hard and hopefully that will come.”
Tomori did just that in Milan. He became a mainstay in manager Stefano Pioli’s defence, playing 23 times in the league to help propel the club to a first Scudetto in over a decade.
With eight games to play, Milan sit top of the table, three points ahead of Napoli and six ahead of defending champions Inter Milan, who have played one less game. The two city rivals will meet next month in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final; the first meeting ended 0-0.
And, although Tomori stresses that the club must continue to advance “game by game” in their race for the national title, he confirms the determination within the camp to deliver bright lights.
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“There are a lot of them,” he says. “A lot. At the start of the season, if you had said that in April we would be top of the league and you still have the Coppa Italia semi-final second leg, I think we would be delighted with our chances.
“We know where we are, we know it’s a crucial part of the season. And that pressure, it’s on us right now. We’re just fueling that, storing it and using it as a fire in our belly for every game.
“Obviously it’s very important and we know every game counts. So we just try to take our time, not get too far ahead of ourselves, not get too excited. Just keep calm, carry on to play our football, keep doing the right things and then hopefully at the end of the season with this position we’re in, we can have something really big to celebrate.
“Because we found out that no Milan team won the Coppa Italia and Serie A in the same season, so again that’s something else. Why can’t we be the first team to do it? So little things like that keep us going.
And, as he points out, Milan’s reputation demands it.
“With the club, you feel there is so much pride and so much will and desire to win,” says Tomori. “As players it’s the same for us: we have that feeling, that feeling in your stomach where you feel so close to something, so that’s going to be a determining factor for us for sure.
“We have a young squad – we have players who have obviously won leagues and stuff before – so this is an opportunity for us to take that step. Not letting people say, ‘They haven’t won because it’s a young team” or whatever.
“To take that step, to fill that, to say that we are young but that we are ready to win. And the team is ready to win.”
The balance between young and old has been key to Milan’s success. At the other end of Tomori’s age spectrum is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a member of the club’s last Scudetto in 2011 (he also won two with Juventus and three with Inter), now 40 and back for his second stint at AC. In tandem with Olivier Giroud, 35, the Swede and the Frenchman scored 16 league goals.
This experience, as well as this expertise, should prove crucial over the next two months.
“Obviously we have Zlatan, who always leads every person,” Tomori says. “We have young players who haven’t played in the Champions League or won the league, so having someone like him keeps everyone focused and motivated and always gives constant reminders… constant reminders are something this team needs and something we are to take on board and learn from.
“It’s definitely a good mix. Because as young players, we have this dynamism, this energy, this enthusiasm. And then the older players have the experience, they have a calm head, they know how to say the right words at the right time. We have a good mix and I think people see it.
More specifically for him, Tomori also credits Simon Kjaer for his great start at Milan; the Denmark captain has helped the transition to life in Italy and the league more than most, despite being out for the season after suffering a serious knee injury in December.
Tomori says the team wants to win the domestic double partly for Kjaer, in what would be the dream denunciation of the former’s first full season at the San Siro.
“If we have 10 wins: eight in the league and two in the Coppa Italia, that would be perfect,” said Tomori. “Easier said than done, and the football isn’t perfect, but that’s what we hope for, what we’re shooting for.
“I know Mr. [Pioli] has been here for two and a half years, so that’s what he’s been working towards. Me, for a year and a half. That’s what we’ve all been working towards, trying to get trophies, bringing some glory back to the club.
“But we know what situation we are in, we know how precarious it is, how important it is. We’re trying to stay calm, trying to use that pressure of energy and fuel to push us towards the end of the season. We are all united in this.
Updated: March 22, 2022, 2:24 p.m.