MILAN — Calgary-born Fikayo Tomori was thrown right into the fray at AC Milan.
The defender made his debut as an early substitute in the Italian Cup quarterfinals against rival Inter Milan only four days after joining Milan on loan from Chelsea.
“I want to help the team as much as I can and the best way to do that is on the pitch … it was nice for me to play my first game,” the 23-year-old Tomori said Thursday. “The game was a derby. When it’s a derby it’s very intense and very emotional, which is good.
“In England, there’s a lot of games like this. Here it’s a bit different but the spirit and the intensity was much the same and I like these kind of situations.”
Milan lost 2-1 on Tuesday after forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off, but Tomori had an impressive debut after replacing the injured Simon Kjær.
Milan is also battling Inter for the Serie A title, which it last won 10 years ago. The team is two points ahead of second-place Inter.
“I’m very happy to be here, to be playing again, to come to this club in a good moment,” Tomori said. “The history of Milan is trophies. To be in this position that we’re in now and to not think about winning the scudetto is something that we shouldn’t be doing.
“We should be thinking about winning the scudetto. We can’t be afraid of saying we want to win it and we can win it. We have to have this kind of motivation and goal to win it.”
Eligible to play for Canada, England and Nigeria, he represented both Canada and England at the youth level but set his sights on the Three Lions. He made his England senior debut in November 2019, coming off the bench in a 4-0 win over Kosovo in Euro 2020 qualifying.
While born in Calgary to Nigerian parents, Tomori was less than a year old when his family left for London, England. He joined Chelsea as an under-eight player.
Tomori turned heads when he attended Canadian youth camps in 2015 and ‘16 in Mexico and England, respectively. In March 2016, the 18-year-old Tomori captained a Canadian under-20 team that included a 15-year old Alphonso Davies and 16-year-old Ballou Tabla in a memorable 2-1 win over an England under-20 side that featured Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford.
Tomori went on to play for England at the under-20 and -21 levels. He has had loan spells at Brighton, Hull and Derby.
This time, he not only has to contend with a change of club but a change of country, too.
“Obviously I’ve come to Italy and I don’t really know much Italian,” Tomori said. “When the manager speaks I’m trying to piece together what he’s saying. But everyone since I’ve been here has been helpful, helping me translate and helping me understand what the manager wants and what everyone is saying. So the transition hasn’t really been too hard.
“And I’ve always wanted to try something new. I know there’s more to life than the Premier League and England and everything like that. I was always ready to go abroad and to try something different and to improve myself and develop myself not only as a footballer but as a person. I know I’m in the right place to do that and probably one of the best places in the world to do so.”
Tomori was signed the same week that Milan acquired forward Mario Mandžukic. He said having to defend against him and Ibrahimovic in training — as well as playing with them — can only help him develop.
“Playing with players like Ibrahimovic and Mandžukic, players that have played at the highest highest level in football, is great,” Tomori said. “The way that you see them not only on the pitch but off the pitch, you see how they act and the things they say in the changing room to motivate the team.
“It’s important to watch that and to try and learn from them. Playing against them of course you learn new things and you see what it’s like to defend against the top, top players. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to doing more, to help me improve myself. I’m happy they’re on my team during the games though.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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Daniella Matar, The Associated Press