Profiling Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori: Frank Lampard's defensive powerhouse making waves | SK Wonderkids
Few clubs have seen their outlook change in recent months quite as much as Chelsea. The Londoners have become used to signing some of the world’s best players in the years that have followed billionaire Roman Abramovich’s takeover in 2003, but after being slapped with a transfer ban by FIFA for breaking the rules regarding the signing of academy players, it was clear that the summer of 2019 would change all that.
Out went manager Maurizio Sarri and in came club legend and record goalscorer Frank Lampard, and with him came a renewed sense of faith in Chelsea’s academy products. Since Lampard took over in the hot seat at Stamford Bridge, many young players have broken out as potential stars, but few have made as big an impact as defender Fikayo Tomori.
Eyebrows were raised when veteran central defender David Luiz was sold to Arsenal in August; obviously Chelsea weren’t going to be able to sign a replacement, but that didn’t matter to Lampard, who evidently knew he had quite the player on his hands in the form of Tomori and has introduced him to Chelsea’s starting line-up to huge success.
Born in Canada to Nigerian parents, Tomori moved to England as a toddler and caught the eye of Chelsea’s scouts early on, signing with the Blues as an under-8 player. From there he moved through Chelsea’s youth ranks and was part of the famed side that won back-to-back FA Youth Cups and UEFA Youth League titles in 2015 and 2016.
2016 was also a pivotal year for the youngster in terms of his international career; up to that point, Tomori had represented the Canadian youth teams, but after coming up against England’s U-20 side that March – and shackling Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who was already considered an emerging star at senior level – he was quickly offered the chance to switch allegiances and took it just two months later, making his England U-19 debut.
“He is a difficult defender to play against and you need that in the modern game. You see all these defenders now and half the time it's about what they can do on the ball, but we've lost the art of defending and that's what he's good at." – Rob Gale, former Canada U-20 coach
May 2016 was also the moment in which he broke into Chelsea’s senior squad for the first time; named on the bench for a match with Liverpool alongside fellow academy products Tammy Abraham and Kasey Palmer, Tomori didn’t manage to make his debut, but weeks later he featured as a substitute in the Blues’ final game of the season – a 1-1 draw with Leicester City.
That would be the last time Chelsea fans would see Tomori for a while, as he then followed the pattern of most of the club’s other recent academy graduates by heading out on numerous loan moves. The EFL Championship was the defender’s preferred destination; 2016/17 saw him spend half a season at Brighton, where he made 10 appearances, and he followed that with a season at Hull City in 2017/18, where he established himself in their first team and played 26 times.
It was his time at Derby County in 2018/19 where he really made a name for himself, though. Former Chelsea star Frank Lampard had taken over the managerial reins at Pride Park in the summer of 2018 and made Tomori’s loan deal one of his first signings.
“The progression is huge, but the main thing I saw in him was work ethic. He quietly goes about his business. He trains hard. Everything you ask him to do, he tries to do it and more. Physically he’s great, we know that. He’s one of those when you’re doing sprinting or running, or heavy running early season, you can see every day he’s nailed, he does the job.” – Frank Lampard, current Chelsea manager
To say Tomori’s time at Derby was outstanding would be an understatement. He was practically an ever-present at the heart of their defence and helped them rise up the table to finish in 6th place, securing them a spot in the Play-Offs. And while Derby ended up coming up short, losing to Aston Villa in the final, Tomori had made such an impact that he was named as the club’s Player of the Year.
It was clear that the Tomori’s destination was always the Premier League, and so it’s come to pass; just six months after that loss to Villa, he’s now a key member of Chelsea’s first XI under the same manager that enabled him to reach such heights at Derby.
Making his Premier League debut against Sheffield United in August, Tomori hasn’t looked back since – scoring his first Chelsea goal against Wolves, a long-range thunderbolt, and forming a formidable partnership with Kurt Zouma – a combination so strong that injured veteran Antonio Rudiger may find it hard to get back into the side once he returns.
So what makes Tomori such a highly rated player? Essentially, he’s got all the tools that a defender needs to succeed at the top level; he averages 3.3 successful tackles, 1.9 interceptions and 0.7 blocks per game, but he’s also excellent going forward. His pass success rate of 87.7% is high for a defender, and we saw an example of his tremendous vision when he assisted for Tammy Abraham’s goal in the Champions League against Lille.
“Huge talent. His tenacity, his anticipation, his willingness to step out and make quick decisions to intercept. He notices the danger, he’s running past people to get back to make an effort for his team. That’s what you want to see from young players.” – Rio Ferdinand, former Manchester United and England defender
What’s next for him? Hopefully his first England senior cap. Tomori was called into the England squad by Gareth Southgate for October’s Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria but didn’t make an appearance. With any luck, that will change soon. A thoroughly modern defender, Tomori could command England’s – and Chelsea’s - back-line for the next decade.