Are you sure, Chelsea?
On Sunday, AC Milan announced the loan signing of young English center back Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea. The player joins the Italian giants on loan for the rest of the season, but the loan also, perplexingly, includes a buy option of around €30 million (£25 million) should Milan want to make the move permanent in the summer. It is an exciting step in the career of the 23 year old Canadian-born Englishman, but it is a move that raises many more questions than answers.
To tell you the truth, I was confused when I heard reports about this move coming into picture. It is one that I have not quite understood the purpose of. I know I usually use these pieces to explain the solid realities of these deals, and I will still talk about how this move works for Milan and the player, but I am left with quite a few unanswered questions from a Chelsea perspective. Like this move, this piece may also raise more questions than solid answers.
For those who do not know much about the player, Fikayo Tomori is a 23 year old center back playing for Chelsea. He emerged from the Chelsea youth set up at a very convenient time, with the club eventually suffering from the transfer ban that allowed him and others to get their chances with the first team instead of joining the infamous Chelsea loan army. Before then, Tomori was on loan a few times, impressing specifically while on loan at Derby County under his future Chelsea boss Frank Lampard. He is still growing as a player. While not the most consistent individual defender, he often still shines with his incredible physicality and turn of pace, as well as a calmness and composure on the ball and a passing ability to match. He is clearly a player that has all of the tools needed to become a high-level center back and excel at a top club.
This is why Milan wanted him, and why this move makes sense for the club and the player. Milan had made no secret of looking for a center back over the last six months, a player that could provide necessary depth while becoming the eventual defensive partner for club captain Alessio Romagnoli. In the summer, they were close to agreeing a deal for Schalke’s Ozan Kabak but could not get the deal over the line. Earlier this month, it looked like they were going to complete a deal for Strasbourg’s Mohamed Simakan, but that potential deal fell through.
Tomori emerged as the third option, and they were obviously able to get this deal over the line and do so at a very reasonable fee. Having already sent Léo Duarte on loan to Turkey and dealing with injury issues in defense, Milan needed to bring in a center back this window, so wrapping up the Tomori deal this early, while not in time to help them against Atalanta this past weekend, is still good news and should boost the Rossoneri in their title hunt.
Unfortunately for Tomori, he will likely not be in the starting XI when all players are fit, as it is very difficult to displace Romagnoli and Simon Kjær at the moment. But there has to be some reassurance as part of the deal that you are being tabbed as “the guy” in the long term. While Kjær has been very good this season, he is 31 and will be on his way out eventually. Tomori knows that there is a clear pathway to the first team for him, which is something that was seemingly not visible at Chelsea. Even then, he will likely see more time on the pitch as a rotational player, as Milan continue to juggle their injury and COVID issues alongside playing in a league title chase, the Europa League, and the Coppa Italia. Having to rely on the 20 year old Pierre Kalulu prior to now, it is important for Milan to have a third choice center back that has more first-team professional experience than the young Kalulu.
And, in the long term, Tomori has the traits to be a great partner for Romagnoli. It does not just simply boil down to Tomori being quick to make up for Romagnoli being a bit slower, but that is definitely a bonus. Romagnoli is not the quickest player, and Tomori’s pace will help cover any time the defense is caught out. The pace also helps for covering for the fullbacks, specifically Theo Hernández, when they are caught higher up the pitch. Tomori’s ability on the ball also offers Milan another player that can get his foot on the ball and transition play from defense to the midfield or spring a winger/fullback on a break. They are both big and physical center backs, able to cope with crosses as well as deal with target men strikers. The future looked bright at Milan before, but having everything figured out at the back with these talented young players like Tomori and Hernández and Donnarumma really should give you even more confidence in this Milan project.
Now, I have questions, Chelsea. Why? Quite simply, why? I do not understand the desire to get rid of Tomori permanently. Loaning him out makes sense, because since there are too many center backs in the first team, Tomori needs to go to a good situation where he will play regularly and develop. But why are Chelsea seemingly giving up on him? Why would you include a buy option? Why, if this is about development and not giving up on him, would you loan him to a team where he is not a guaranteed starter? None of this makes sense to me.
Tomori’s potential is clear. Lampard should theoretically know this more than anyone. He was club player of the season at Derby the year Lampard was manager there, he was a key cog in a Derby team that was a game away from promotion to the Premier League. In his first full season at Chelsea, he showed incredible flashes, and, while he still had some inconsistencies to work through, he was clearly an incredibly promising player. Then suddenly he disappears from the first team picture and is possibly on his way out of West London for good. Sure, Thiago Silva has been solid, and Antonio Rüdiger and Kurt Zouma have both had their moments, but is that really enough for a club of Chelsea’s aspirations?
Yes, Lampard have five center backs to choose from, or six if you count Azpilicueta, but it is still the weakest area of their team. Rüdiger is not nearly consistent enough. Zouma is having a good season, but he is no longer the young promising player he was, and he is surely not going to get much better beyond the “alright” level he is already at. Thiago Silva is good but is also 36. And I have no idea what anyone at Chelsea sees in Andreas Christensen that allows him to keep getting chances in the team.
Sure, Tomori is not there yet, but why would Chelsea give up on their most promising center back? He could have been a first team starter for years, and he is literally free! No transfer fee needed, and with how much top level center backs are going for now, that cannot be overstated. He is from that famous Chelsea academy that the club supposedly values, or that is what everyone insisted last season. His wages were not even that high, they are not exactly saving much money here or building toward a big pay day. What is there to gain here for Chelsea? Why would they do this?
I just do not get it, Chelsea. I do not get it. You have a promising and exciting young center back, Chelsea born and bred, with the potential of being a part of the spine of this team for years to come, and you give him away. I mean, congrats Milan. You made a fantastic and, frankly, cost-effective transfer that makes your team better in the short and long term. But Lampard, I just do not understand the logic behind this. This puts pressure on the club, not just Lampard as he might not make it to the end of the season, to sign a center back either in January or in the summer. With the amount of money they spent last summer, they are clearly gunning for a title now, and the defense as constructed is not good enough to contend for the league title at present moment. You are putting a whole lot of pressure on the club to make a move for a Dayot Upamecano or someone of that caliber, moves that will get even harder if Chelsea cannot grind their way back to the top four this season.
Well, good for Tomori. Not often that a young player can get this type of move to a bigger club. Hope he takes advantage of it.
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