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Fikayo Tomori on manic Zlatan, learning from Maldini and the tension of Milan’s clash against Liverpool

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Fikayo Tomori did as advised and showed up a few hours earlier than usual. Still, he found the crowd gathering in the streets outside Milanello, with their giant flags, glowing torches and loud hailers.

Manager Stefano Pioli and his team lined up to hear the roar of the Curva Sud ultras before boarding the team bus for the ride to Bergamo to meet Atalanta in the final game of the season.

The bus rolled slowly through the gates, out of the training complex, engulfed in plumes of red smoke and accompanied by fans holding torches, windows rattling with noise, just in case players had the slightest doubt as to what it meant to make a safe return. to set the Champions League.

Fikayo Tomori will be at the heart of AC Milan’s defense this week when they face Liverpool

The Rossoneri travel to Anfield on Wednesday evening for their Champions League game

The Rossoneri travel to Anfield on Wednesday evening for their Champions League game

‘Motivational’, Tomori laughs with a hint of understatement. “Unlike anything I’ve seen in England. From the moment I arrived here it was made clear that we wanted to return to the Champions League. Everyone knew it was very important.

“A club like AC Milan hasn’t been in the Champions League for seven years. The team was in good shape and it continued until the last day, away from home against a strong side like Atalanta. Now, here we are.’

Milan beat Atalanta 2-0, finishing last season with 13 points from five games – no goals against – and finishing second in Serie A, their best-placed finish in nine years.

Tomori, who was loaned from Chelsea in January, became an instant hit with the Rossoneri for his speed and courage at the back, not to mention a key goal in a 3-0 win over Juventus, who jumps high to take the lead. just to go in.

Tomori has become a popular member of the Milan team and fan base over the past six months

Tomori has become a popular member of the Milan team and fan base over the past six months

It was their first success at Juve’s new stadium and the 23-year-old raised in Gravesend became the first Englishman to score for Milan since David Beckham.

“I saw that stat,” Tomori . says Sports post, via Zoom from Milanello. “It’s nice to see the famous players who have played here.

“When you walk into Casa Milan, where the museum is, you see how many titles and trophies they have won.

“Here on the training ground you see pictures of those players lifting the Champions League and the Scudetto. Everywhere you look is a sense of history. Walk around and you know you’re part of a big club. You know you are in a place that is drawn to success.”

Tomori needed little encouragement to make his £24million move from Chelsea permanent in June.

Tomori has become an instant hit with the Rossoneri for his speed and courage in the back

Tomori has become an instant hit with the Rossoneri for his speed and courage in the back

“The only question was whether they wanted me,” he says modestly. “Coming back from last season, I felt very comfortable here.

“Everyone made me feel really welcome and happy. I enjoyed my football and felt like I was learning a lot. Most importantly, I got a chance. The club trusted me on the pitch and that was so important.

“When I knew Milan wanted me, I was pretty much there. To have the opportunity to be a part of this historic club, to play in the Champions League after I helped them qualify, and to have that bond with the club, the manager and my teammates felt really good . I feel at home here.’

He may live alone, 600 miles from friends and family, but he quickly gets used to the rhythm of Milan.

Tomori lives alone in Milan after arriving from Chelsea where he didn't make it

Tomori lives alone in Milan after arriving from Chelsea where he didn’t make it

‘Life is a bit slower and more relaxed than in England, more relaxed, the kind of life I like. The weather is a lot better. People go for coffee after training, just chill and sit in the sun.’

His language skills are developing. “It’s going well,” he nods. ‘Italian is the language of the field and I understand everything.’ And he studies hard with the masters in the art of defense.

‘I try to learn and improve. England is a very fast-paced league, situations happen quickly and you have to react, while in Italy you lure your opponents into specific positions that you know you can defend well. That’s a big difference. I wasn’t used to that at first.

“Italians are known for their defenders and defense structure. It is definitely coached differently here. It’s about positioning yourself or reading where the ball is going, when to follow the striker, when to let the striker go, knowing that if I go here, someone else has to go there, and make sure all those gears to collaborate.

Tomori is aided by AC Milan sporting director and a club legend in Paolo Maldini

Tomori is aided by AC Milan sporting director and a club legend in Paolo Maldini

‘It’s a very pleasant environment and there are a lot of people to help. The manager was a central defender. We have Paolo Maldini at the club, the best defender of all time. We have Daniele Bonera in the coaching staff, who was a central defender for Milan and played in the Champions League.”

Pioli has restored Milan’s confidence and, despite goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s loss to Paris Saint-Germain, has sprinkled a forward-thinking team with experience and leaders, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The totem Swede, 40 next month, scored on his return from four months out with a knee injury in a 2-0 win against Lazio on Sunday as Pioli’s team made it nine points from three games.

“It’s all about winning,” said Tomori, fresh off a footgolf win in a team that included Zlatan and Brahim Diaz, who were hired from Real Madrid. “Even in footgolf he tells us, ‘we can’t lose, we can’t lose’, and in the end we won.

Tomori (left) opened up about how competitive Zlatan Ibrahimovic (center) is - even in footgolf

Tomori (left) opened up about how competitive Zlatan Ibrahimovic (center) is – even in footgolf

“Whether we’re playing mini-games or 11-v-11 training, or it’s a quick handball game before training, he wants to win and if he wins, he’ll let everyone know. I think that stimulates him and the people around him.

“You don’t want to be on Zlatan’s team and not get what you want, because if you don’t, you’re going to get in trouble. He is such a great personality and his presence ups everyone’s game. He is a winner and that passes to the rest of the team.”

There is also a common thread from Chelsea through Milan. Tiemoue Bakayoko has returned on loan, while Olivier Giroud made the switch from Stamford Bridge in July. Giroud scored twice on his debut against Cagliari and is back training after eight days after a positive Covid test.

“We talked for a while before he came,” Tomori says. “We knew it was in the works and I was waiting for it, so I was really happy to see it.”

He expects more goals from Giroud and goals from Tammy Abraham, a close friend after many years together at Chelsea, who followed him to Serie A this summer with a £34 million transfer to AS Roma.

Tomori (right) was joined in Milan by former Chelsea teammate and striker Olivier Giroud (left)

Tomori (right) was joined in Milan by former Chelsea teammate and striker Olivier Giroud (left)

“When he first got to know Roma, he asked me about life in Italy and what I thought of the competition,” said Tomori. “I said, ‘I was here for six months and I signed permanently, that should tell you a lot.’

“We’ve talked a lot and we’re still talking, I’m trying to tell him to learn Italian well. He wants to go with the flow and see how much he can pick up, and I try to tell him to get a teacher and get it going.

“He’s enjoying it and he’s off to a really good start. Tammy is a goalscorer, he will score goals, hopefully not against Milan.”

Tomori knows when the friends first go head to head, in Rome. “October 31,” he grins. Halloween. “Hopefully a scary night for him.”

Gareth Southgate has not called up Tomori since November 2019, when he won his only cap against Kosovo, the last international before the pandemic, but in media briefings this month, the England boss mentioned his good form for Milan.

The defender is hoping for a recall from England after his 2019 debut

The defender is hoping for a recall from England after his 2019 debut

“I haven’t had any direct contact,” Tomori said. “It’s in the back of my mind, but I try not to think about it too much.

“I’m trying to worry about what I’m doing here. If I play well and help the team, everything that needs to happen will happen.”

Strong performances in a Champions League group that also includes Atletico Madrid and Porto will help his cause.

‘We are excited’, says Tomori. “Not many teams wanted us in their group. We have a good squad, a young, lively squad. We’ve fought to be in this position, playing with the elite.

“We want to challenge ourselves and show how good we are. I’m sure we can do well in the Champions League and we’re going to enjoy it.”

The centre-back hopes to help Milan create a new Champions League epic with Liverpool

The centre-back hopes to help Milan create a new Champions League epic with Liverpool

Milan, one of the great names of European football where they belong, will surely recognize them in Liverpool after the epic finals of 2005 and 2007.

“I remember them both very well,” said Tomori, who just signed with Chelsea at the age of seven.

“My best friend was a Liverpool supporter. He was buzzing for that final in Istanbul and when AC Milan were leading 3-0 with such a great team, I thought, “He will be mad at school tomorrow.”

“The comeback made it such a great final. Disappointing for Milan, but then 2007, Athens, it was the rematch and the revenge. One-one in the final, you might say. This match has a lot of history for both clubs. In Milan they prefer the 2007 version, and so do I.’

AC Milan will wear their new away kit for the first time at Liverpool. The gold Puma shirts are inspired by the work of the club Foundation and linked to an initiative to raise money for six social projects in six cities on six different continents.

The projects can be found in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Kolkata, Melbourne, Nairobi and Milan. Fans are invited to select their favorite and donate via fondazionemilan.org/contest and the club donates 50,000 euros to the most popular.

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