Fikayo Tomori has opened up on the influence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paulo Maldini, with the Chelsea defender relishing his loan spell with AC Milan.
Tomori signed for Milan on loan during the January transfer window following a frustrating period at Stamford Bridge, the defender having fallen out of favour after initially breaking into the Chelsea first-team last season.
The 23-year-old made just one Premier League appearance this season before being allowed to depart on loan during the winter window, where he has since impressed in a Milan side who currently sit second in Serie A.
Tomori will form part of the side which takes on Manchester United in the last 16 of the Europa League this evening and ahead of the clash has opened up on his experience in Italian football to date.
The defender admits he has been taken back by the sheer size of the Italian giants, revealing he quickly understood the history of the Rossoneri following his loan arrival at the San Siro.
“Before I came here I spoke to Paolo Maldini,” Tomori told The Times. “Obviously I knew it was a big club and he said it was a big club, but when I arrived and went to the museum at Casa Milan, and saw all the Ballon d’Ors here, the pictures of the greats who have gone before, then the seven Champions League trophies, you really do feel it… Like, wow.
“When I go to the training ground and see the pictures and names on the wall of people who have set records, like [Andriy] Shevchenko, Maldini, Kaka and [Clarence] Seedorf, and I’m thinking that they’ve all been here, they’ve all sat in these changing rooms, played on these pitches. All those moments fill you with pride. You breathe it in.”
Tomori was linked with a Premier League loan move last summer with both West Ham United and Everton interested in his services, the academy graduate deciding to stay with Chelsea and fight for his first-team place.
The centre-back admits it was difficult to find himself on the fringes after being given a ‘taste’ of senior action under Frank Lampard this season, though says he has no regrets given the situation he now finds himself in.
“Having that taste of it and having it taken away from me a little bit, it was a new situation and I had to adapt,” he said. “If I had gone on loan somewhere during the summer, I wouldn’t be here. Now, I have the chance to play for AC Milan, play in Serie A, learning something new and having the likes of [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, [Mario] Mandzukic, and Paolo Maldini, to learn from.”
Amongst Tomori’s current teammates is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has enjoyed a renaissance since making a romantic return to Milan from LA Galaxy last winter.
The Swedish star has scored a staggering 27 goals in 41 appearances and continues to thrive at the highest level despite approaching his 40th birthday, the forward having this week come out of international retirement ahead of this summer’s European Championships.
Tomori admits the forward carries an ‘aura’ and ‘presence’ in the dressing room, revealing Ibrahimovic’s role as a leader and inspiration to the rest of the Milan squad.
“Even when he’s not playing, like now with the injury, he comes in the changing room and talks as if he’s starting the game,” Tomori said. “He’s got that aura, that persona. He’s motivating himself and that motivation radiates towards the team. When he’s around you feel his presence — it’s not intimidating or daunting, everyone wants to up their level, you want to reach that level and meet his expectations.”
Tomori also spoke on Milan legend Paulo Maldini, an influential figure in his move to the club with the former club captain now working as technical director for the Italian side.
Maldini spent his entire career with the Rossoneri and won five Champions League trophies, with Tomori admitting he is desperate to impress a man many regard as the greatest defender of all time.
“You feel his presence,” he added. “As much as I’m playing for myself and for the team and the manager, I want to impress him. It’s like if you were an attacker and one day Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi was your sporting director and saying these words for you. It’s crazy.
“Before every game, he talks and says come on and says well done after. If I haven’t played well he’s still there saying well done.”
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