England has beaten Canada to the punch in enlisting Fikayo Tomori, Chelsea’s Calgary-born centre back.
England coach Gareth Southgate has called up the 21-year-old for Euro qualifying matches against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria later this month.
“What an honour to get my first England call-up. Can’t wait to link up with the squad,” Tomori tweeted Thursday.
Tomori’s choice of country is not unexpected. 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.
“Since his evolution now in the Chelsea first team, he and his representatives have made it very clear that their primary goal is to make the England national team in the foreseeable future,” Canada coach John Herdman said prior to the English call-up.
“The stars align for him, maybe not for us, if that makes sense” he added, citing Tomori’s rise in the Chelsea ranks under new manager Frank Lampard. “But what a prospect.”
While born in Calgary, 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. Canada has kept tabs on the young defender ever since, with regular contact with the Tomori camp.
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.
“He’s a hidden gem, really,” Rob Gale, then Canadian under-20 coach and now Valour FC head coach, said after bringing Tomori in for the November 2015 camp in Mexico.
He did not remain hidden, for long. Tomori went on to play for England at the under-20 and -21 levels. Appearing in a Euro qualifying game would tie his international allegiance to England.
Tomori has flourished at Chelsea this season under Lampard, appearing in seven games including Champions League play and scoring against Wolves last month.
The six-foot-one 172-pounder previously was loaned out to Brighton and Derby County, where he played for Lampard.
Tomori is not the first Calgary-born player to opt for England over Canada. Owen Hargreaves famously did the same, choosing the Three Lions over Canada and Wales. The Bayern Munich and Manchester United midfielder went on to win 42 caps for England and was a key player at the 2006 World Cup.
England is currently ranked fourth in the world, just behind Brazil. Canada is No. 75, sandwiched between Guinea and Curacao.
Tomori joins Chelsea teammates Tammy Abraham, Ross Barkley and Mason Mount on the England roster.
England leads Euro qualifying group A with a 4-0-0 record and can seal qualification for Euro 2020 with a victory in Prague on Oct. 11.