The Blues centre-back was convinced to switch roles as an 11-year-old after idolising a number of forwards and midfielders as a child
A young Fikayo Tomori was initially annoyed when told he was better in defence than attack when breaking through at Chelsea‘s academy, but it has proved to be an inspired decision in the long run.
The Canadian-born defender has been one of Frank Lampard’s most frequently used players this season, regularly lining up alongside fellow academy graduates Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James.
However, like many players, he watched more attackers as a child, with his idols were all either strikers or midfielders.
“Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho – and I was playing just at the time when my dad was crazy about [Zinedine] Zidane – so Zidane was one of my players that I grew up hearing about,” Tomori told Goal as he was unveiled as an EA SPORTS FIFA 20 Future Star.
“There was also David Beckham, Michael Owen and those kinds of players, Wayne Rooney.”
Tomori was hopeful that his identity as a professional footballer would be similar to his heroes. But there were honest talks to manage his expectations, with the coaching staff at Cobham keen to see the youngster in his best role.
“When I first moved to Chelsea at Under-9s, you had three months in defence, three months in midfield and three months in the attack,” he said. “Then from there, they gauge where everyone is. I think it was when I was about 11 [when moved into defence] and before then I played midfielder or as an attacker.
“Back then, no one wanted to be a defender. I remember the manager kept putting me in defence and I kept getting upset. My dad was like ‘listen I am going to be honest with you, the way your make up is and the way you play football means you are a defender.’ So from there I just became a defender.
“John Terry became my idol. At that point in time he was the England captain and the Chelsea captain. He was probably the best defender in the world so there was no one better to look up to.
“Him for sure and [Fabio] Cannavaro was around at the same time when Italy won the World Cup. He won the Ballon d’Or. Then as I have got older I looked at Sergio Ramos, Virgil van Dijk and those are the first current names that pop into my head.”
It was Frank Lampard while in charge at Derby who got the best from Tomori, with the on-loan stopper winning the Championship club’s Player of the Season award last term. Tomori says that assistant manager Jody Morris and fellow Chelsea coach Joe Edwards have helped him at almost every step of his journey.
“I had Joe Edwards up until I was about 18. I had him at four age groups so he knows me really well. I have had Jody at Derby and now this year. They are a big part of my development in the U-18s and U-23s. To have them here now is another big help.
“Not only is it the trust but it helps us [academy players in the first team] to keep our standards high. They know how good we can be. If you start to slip below the levels, they can tell us that this is where you need to improve or this is where you have gone wrong. As young players, we need that.”
It has been a breakout campaign for Tomori since returning to Stamford Bridge. In the space of a month earlier this season he had his first Premier League goal, first Champions League start and an England call-up.
“I remember we played Lille away, we just won the game and we knew the [England] squad was going to be announced. The manager came up to Tammy and me and said, ‘oh, you are getting the call-up tomorrow’. He just walked away and then me and Tammy smiled at each other.
“It was like ‘wow! that’s crazy!’. I just kind of had the moment to myself when I was taking it in. Then I called my dad on the coach and he was like ‘Oh! Oh!’ I think he was just surprised and shocked that it would have happened.
“If you said that I would have played for Chelsea in the Champions League and Premier League, scored my first Premier League goal and got an England call-up you would be like… ‘Oh!’ So for it to all happen so quickly and at once was just a dream.”
Fikayo Tomori was speaking as he was announced as an EA SPORTS FIFA 20 Future Star, a squad featuring football’s brightest prospects. The squad is made up of players who are 23 or under and projects their future ratings, reflecting their potential to become the best in the world. 40 players are available in packs now until Friday 14th February. To find out more information, head to: https://www.ea.com/games/fifa/fifa-20/ultimate-team/future-stars