When it comes down to crowning the Premier League’s Young Player of the Season next May, Chelsea will have more than one contender for the award – and Fikayo Tomori is a baller that deserves to be in that discussion.
Dubbed the ‘Cobham Cannavaro’ by a section of supporters at Stamford Bridge, Fikayo Tomori is the Calgary-born 21-year-old centre back who has become one of the surprise stars of an exciting Chelsea season that’s seen a slew of West London’s young stars live out their boyhood dreams by making the leap from academy to first team, and balling out in the Premier League every single weekend.
For Tomori – who has been at the club since he was seven-years-old – it’s been a phenomenal rise. Now playing alongside his day one friends Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount – and seeing the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James make further strides in their fledgling careers at the club – Tomori is helping to usher in a new era at Chelsea. Making waves in his early Premier League appearances has also earned Tomori his first call-ups to the England national team.
Fik knows he still has some way to go to emulate the legacy of his idol John Terry, who he once looked up to as a 12-year-old prospect around the corner from where we speak to him today at Cobham FC. Fresh from winning six games on the bounce with the Blues, we spoke with Fikayo Tomori about his Chelsea breakthrough, his determination to turn his academy success into senior silverware, and his experience with England – including what it was like to be with the squad during that awful night of racist abuse in Sofia.
Photography by Dean George.
VERSUS: You were Derby’s player of the season last year – and now you’ve followed that up by becoming one of the main men at Chelsea. What’s it been like to make the leap at Stamford Bridge?
Fikayo Tomori: It’s a dream come true! It’s the club I’ve been at since I was seven-years-old and that makes it that extra bit special, as I’ve been playing with people who have been with me since the beginning. Playing with people like Tammy and Mason is such a special thing – we’re just happy to be getting the opportunity.
Do you think that relationship has helped you all hit the ground running in the Premier League?
Yeah, we’ve always had that chemistry. We’ve been in the same teams for so long, playing together feels very natural. As I said, me, Tammy and Mason all link well, and then we’ve got Hudson-Odoi and Reece James coming through as well who we’ve known on and off the pitch for ages. That bond has helped us to support each other on the pitch.
We really want to see each other do well. We motivate each other all the time, and it’s been a great year so far. Playing in the Premier League is something we’ve all wanted to do for so long…so winning games and cementing our place in the team, it’s a dream for all us boys who love this club.
Lampard has obviously played a huge role in your career, first at Derby and now here. What’s been the most important thing that he’s done in getting you to the level where you’re at now?
He’s put his faith in me. Even though last year, I was 20 going on 21, he made me a centre back in a team that was challenging for the Championship Play-Offs…having that sort of trust has been great for my self-belief and progression. He’s come into Chelsea this season and has done the same thing for me again, and a handful of other young players in a similar position. That’s massive.
I read that you and Tammy were texting each other at the start of the 2018/19 season, while you were on loan at Villa and Derby, saying: “Imagine if we both go to the Play-Off final” – was it weird when that actually happened?
I remember that was in October or November time and Villa weren’t doing that well. He messaged me saying “bro imagine if we played in the Play-Off final?” and I was like “come on bro that’s not gonna happen” – we laughed about it at the time, but then as the season progressed, it started looking more and more likely. Tammy was on fire, they got to the final and so did we. We saw each other a few days later and spoke about how mad it was.
I think for about seven days before the final we didn’t speak a word to each other (laughs). It was still a friendly one…but yeah it was game time, so we just didn’t communicate for a bit. It was a very serious game for our clubs at the time and we both badly wanted to win. I much prefer being on the same team as him now!
“We love this club and it’s built on success…it’s our duty to keep that up.”
When you talk, the affection you have for the young guys at Chelsea is so clear and it does feel like you’re just talking about a group of friends, rather than colleagues or fellow professionals…
Exactly like that. In many ways it feels like kicking ball in the park with them – but just in big stadiums with a bit more pressure! Even though we’re all young players who are good friends, we love this club and know what it’s built on. The foundation is success, and it’s our duty to keep up that success. We’re helped by having players like Azpi and Jorginho, they’re the kind of people who instill the mentality required to achieve success.
You won the England U20 World Cup, which makes you part of an extremely talented generation of Young Lions. What makes this new wave stand out?
I think we’re just taking the opportunities coming our way right now. You see Sancho in Germany, Callum for us last season, Tammy and Mason this year…Rashford as well with United. We’re all performing – and having successful teams at youth level definitely gives you the confidence to step up at senior level.
And you’ve recently been called up to the senior side. How did you find out you were getting called up to the England squad?
Frank actually brought me and Tammy in and told us as as soon as we beat Lille – so we were already on a mad buzz from winning that game anyway! We then FaceTimed each other about it later on – we were so, so hyped. Then the next day, my friends were all asking me if I was gonna get the call up.
I sort of played it down and told them I was just going on holiday – while the whole time I obviously knew and was waiting for the news to break. When it did, my phone went completely mad! Social media was crazy and everything was just a bit surreal. I was calling my parents after the news was out, and hearing how proud they were meant the world to me.
“In Bulgaria, Raheem went around to all the young boys and made sure we all kept our heads high.”
What are the vibes like on international duty at the moment?
The vibes are really good. They made the Chelsea boys feel really welcome and I felt like we slotted in straight away. The training is mad – the levels are really high and the tactical stuff prepping for Euro 2020 is already underway and proper intense so it’s good to be a part of that at this stage.
What did Gareth Southgate say to you during the international break, and how influential do you think he is for the younger players in the team looking to step up?
One thing with Gareth is that you know he’s always watching. He’s watched me at the U21s before a lot in the past so I feel like he knows all the qualities of the young lads really well.
You were in the stadium in Sofia when the game against Bulgaria was stopped twice because of racist abuse – what was it like to be in the middle of that?
It was crazy. We heard it in the first half but I think we dealt with it the right way. The way that the likes of Tyrone, Raheem and Marcus handled it was great – but the likes of Harry Kane and Harry Maguire were also just as on point and led by example in my opinion. Nobody wants to go through things like that, and I definitely believe UEFA and The FA need to do more – but I appreciate it’s one step at a time and there’s no quick fix. The UEFA protocol was effective though, and the second half was a lot better for us.
What did you make of the team’s reaction to it?
Raz was a massive influence for us before, during and after the game. He went around to all the debutants and the young boys and made sure we were all alright and kept our heads high at the time. The squad’s collective reaction was an example to everyone though – I sat on the sidelines proud of how the lads handled it.
“I remember looking at the senior team and thinking ‘wow, will I ever be that good?'”
You could be a role model to young ballers in the future, in the same way Raheem is now. How does it feel looking at the kids in Chelsea’s academy right now who are aspiring to be like you?
It’s a crazy feeling. I remember walking past the youth team pitches when I was 10 and 11-years-old, thinking how big the senior team looked and how good they looked! I remember thinking, “wow, am I ever going to get to where they are and will I ever be that good?”.
It’s inspiring to see the young academy players on the same journey I was on – it gives you a sense of wanting to be a role model for them. I remember John Terry doing that for me back in the day but I don’t think I’m quite on his level yet!
Soon come! You actually had one of your best games shutting down Mo Salah earlier in the season despite the result not going your way – what’s it been like to test yourself against world class talent?
When you’re playing, you don’t really think about the status of who you’re up against. But I remember in that game my dad was in the crowd and I made a tackle on Salah where I went firm, but fair, won the ball and everyone at Stamford Bridge was cheering!
I remember looking to this little corner of the ground where I know my parents sit. I just looked up and saw my dad cheering – that was a crazy moment for me. I remember him going on last season about how good Salah, Mane and Firmino all were in the Champions League and then in that moment, I was like “I’ve just tackled Mo Salah and he just saw it”…yeah, that was a good moment!
We’ve all heard about the loan player WhatsApp group at Chelsea. Is there a separate one for the academy boys?
I’m in one with me, Tammy, Ola Aina – who’s at Torino – Trevoh Chalobah and Ike Ugbo who’s in Holland at Roda, so we talk on the daily. Tammy and Mason are always playing Fortnite together, so they’re always bantering on the mic on the PlayStation.
“I want to win a trophy with these boys, winning a trophy for Chelsea would be sick.”
You boys are all big into your fashion. Who’s leading the way in terms of drip?
Ross Barkley actually dresses really well. Tammy…he wears some good stuff, I wouldn’t say he’s out there, but he likes shiny things and stuff. I’m a bit more discrete with my style. I’m a comfortable person – jumper, hoodie, trainers, that’s the vibe.
What else are you into off the pitch? Do you play any of the boys on FIFA?
I didn’t play FIFA that much at all last year as my card was so bad. But this year, I’ve been giving it a go. Hopefully the in-form will be coming soon! These boys are playing Ultimate Team at the moment, but I’m more of a Pro Clubs kind of guy. Tammy’s got two in-forms already…and he’s made sure I know about that all the time.
Other than that, I’m a pretty chilled guy. I nap every day after training! I’ll be watching Netflix, going out to eat, maybe Topgolf or something occasionally with the boys.
What are you guys bumping music-wise in the changing room at the minute? There any UK rappers that are on constant rotation at Chelsea?
Rudiger, Callum or Marcos are usually in control of the music in the dressing room, so I usually just listen to what they’re sticking on when we’re training or playing. Some of their stuff ain’t bad! But for me, I like French music. I don’t actually speak French but I just like the beat, the flow and the vibe French artists bring. Michy and Kurt are bringing those vibes for me, so shout them to get their French rap playlists.
UK-wise, some obvious ones like Stormzy and J Hus. I listen to a lot D-Block and Nafe Smallz too…US-wise, the new Young Thug album is hard!
With such a rapid ascendancy, you must feel like there are bigger targets you can smash now. What are you targeting next?
I just want to play as many games as possible and cement a place in the team as much as I can. I want to win a trophy with these boys at the end of the season too, lifting a trophy for Chelsea would be sick!
Fikayo Tomori plays in the adidas Copa from the new Encryption Pack which is available now at adidas.co.uk/football-shoes.