UEFA.com works better on other browsers
For the best possible experience, we recommend using Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

Milan's Fikayo Tomori on giving everything to reach the Champions League

Playing in the Champions League remains an unadulterated joy for Fikayo Tomori, the Milan defender still thrilled to be thinking "this is what I used to watch people do and now I'm doing it".

Next in Line: Tomori living Champions League dream

FedEx returns with Next in Line, the #UCL series showcasing some of the most exciting, talented youngsters in European football. Each episode looks at the player's footballing journey to date, the inspirations and ambitions behind their success, as well as the role that data and analytics play in helping take their performance to the next level.

"My dream in life might sound a bit clichéd, but I don't want to have any regrets," said Fikayo Tomori in an interview for the Next in Line series, presented by FedEx, which showcases the stars of the future. "I want to be able to say at the end of it, I did everything I could, allowed myself to be myself. At the end of that, if I win a million trophies or if I just have the Scudetto, in myself I'm content in what I've done."

At 25, the Canadian-born centre-back has become a major player in Serie A with AC Milan, helping the club to win their first Italian title in over a decade in 2021/22. That is vindication for his decision to venture out of his comfort zone. Having been on the books at Chelsea since childhood, Tomori went to San Siro – initially on loan – in January 2021, and since then he has learned a new footballing language.

Fikayo Tomori in pre-season action with Chelsea in 2015
Fikayo Tomori in pre-season action with Chelsea in 2015Getty Images

He explains: "In Italy it's more about, 'OK, this is where you need to be when the ball is here. This is how your body needs to be. This is where you should pass the ball'. In England, you can play on instinct. In Italy they're trying to eliminate that as much as possible [so that] you know what you're doing and you know how the team is playing, where you need to pass the ball."

Tomori was born in Calgary to parents from Nigeria – as he explains, his full name, Oluwafikayomi Tomori, "actually means 'God has filled me with joy'" – but moved to London as a baby. He was just eight when he came onto Chelsea's radar, a scout approaching his father to invite him to spend time at the club's development centre – an experience that was somewhat daunting.

"First day I actually went to the academy, there are kids from all around London who can do the same thing I can. And it wasn't as easy for me. I remember I said to my dad, when I got in the car, 'Dad, I'm not sure I can come back.' He said, 'No, no, you're coming back, for sure. You need to be in a place where you're challenged, where you can improve yourself.'"

It was the first culture shock that the young Tomori had experienced, but not the last. He remembers attending his first game at Stamford Bridge with his father ("We'd never actually seen a football game live") and being amazed to see Didier Drogba warm up in front of them: "We were, like, 'Whoa, that's the Drogba we see on the TV on the flat screen and now we can see him 3D."

Tomori joy at Chelsea's Youth League triumph

He worked his way through the ranks at Chelsea, gaining experience on loan at Brighton, Hull and Derby, but struggled to carve out a regular place in the Blues' first team despite winning the 2015/16 UEFA Youth League and making four Champions League appearances in 2019/20. When he was approached by Milan technical director and defensive maestro Paolo Maldini with a view to a loan, he saw an opportunity.

"Once I arrived here, I remember I put on the top and the red-and-black stripes, it was just surreal," he says, recalling his first days in the city. "San Siro, it's like a monument. You can see it the whole way as you're driving. It kind of feels like it's leaning towards you. Then, on a matchday, the fans are there from two hours before the game. You just feel the energy from them."

Tomori has certainly channelled that energy successfully, an initial loan period preceding a permanent move to the city and – happily – more regular Champions League football this season. While he is very much an established professional, the defender concedes that playing in the world's top club competition remains that little bit extra special.

"You play the league games, you play the domestic cup competitions, but then when the Champions League comes, it's just different," he says. "The lights are a bit brighter now in San Siro. You're listening to the last minute when they go 'The champions' and then the whole stadium just sings. It gives you goosebumps, even though every time it happens. It's just, like, 'Whoa, this is crazy.'

Highlights: Milan 1-2 Liverpool

"I remember when I scored against Liverpool [in a 2-1 home defeat in December 2021], I'm looking back, thinking, 'I actually scored in the San Siro for Milan in the Champions League.' Those kinds of things, it's just like thinking, 'Wow, this is what I used to watch people do and now I'm doing it'. It is crazy to think about."

Improbable, but very much true, and if he has come a long way, Tomori knows he has further to go to fully realise his potential. He talks about improving his long-range distribution, getting stronger on his left foot and analysing the effectiveness of his runs, adding: "The next level for me is just being that presence in both boxes, being dominant in the air, being dominant on the floor."

The centre-back believes that drive to improve himself has come from his father. "He says everything yields to diligence, not just in football but in life," Tomori explains. "If you work hard at something, if you apply yourself and you really want it, then what you put the work into will have its rewards. It's something that's always been in my head, something tattooed on my brain somewhere."

One way or another, as he continues to strive to be the best he can be, he is honouring his promise to himself. One day – when he finally gets to look back – he will hopefully be happy that he gave his all.

Paolo Maldini and Fikayo Tomori at Milan
Paolo Maldini and Fikayo Tomori at MilanAC Milan via Getty Images

Selected for you