As a centre-back, receiving praise from Paolo Maldini is like Jack Grealish complimenting you on how many jägerbombs you ordered at the bar on a night out.
And, having just helped AC Milan win their first Serie A title since 2011, Fikayo Tomori will celebrate just like Man City’s Grealish this weekend.
The Englishman, who made what some will have seen as a risky move to Italy last year, proved all doubters wrong by becoming one of Serie A’s best centre-backs.
He moved to Milan from Chelsea, initially on loan last January, before the club made the move permanent last summer.
And Maldini, technical director of the new Italian champions, has enlarged the defender, who, coming from one of the greatest of all time, deserves attention.
“Fortunately, I work for a club that has an effect on the players. When AC Milan calls, the players always listen,” the Milan legend told Sky Sports Italy after Tomori’s initial loan spell.
“Fikayo is a player with special characteristics, rhythm and intensity, so we thought he could be a good reinforcement for this second half of the season.”
And the respect is seemingly mutual, with Tomori saying Maldini, along with other AC Milan legends who have achieved huge success at the club, was one of the main reasons he decided to make the move.
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“Before coming here, I spoke to Paolo Maldini,” he told The Times in 2021.
“Obviously I knew it was a big club and he said it was a big club – but when I arrived and went to the Casa Milan museum I saw all the Footballs of But here, the photos of the greats who left before, then the seven Champions League trophies, it really feels.
“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 think they’ve all been here, they’ve all sat in these locker rooms, played on these pitches. All these moments fill you with pride. You breathe it.
Ever since these legendary players left the club, things haven’t quite been the same on the red and black side of the Italian city.
It had been 11 years of heartbreak for the Rossoneri supporters, who yearned for a Scudetto victory and waited for someone to come in and finally replace some of their heroes from that 2010/11 squad.
And this season, it has finally happened, with fans drawing comparisons between the players of their current team and that title-winning team from more than a decade ago.
Sandro Tonali is the Andrea Pirlo, Brahim Diaz is the Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the, well, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
And, understandably, comparisons have been drawn between Tomori and Thiago Silva, who played a vital role in Milan’s last league win, as did the 24-year-old this season.
Silva played more minutes for Milan than any other outfield player in their 2010/11 Serie A season, which Tomori has also done for them this season.
And, just as Maldini alluded to, his composure on the ball, his pace, his strength and his reading of the game are why those Silva parallels were made, as well as the fact that he is adored by the Milan fans.
In that sense, they have almost replaced each other at their respective clubs, with Silva now a key cog in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side, having sold Tomori in the summer.
It would have been great to see the two playing side by side more often than the 60 minutes they partnered centre-back in a 6-0 Carabao Cup win over Barnsley in September 2020.
If you had just read the above and had no idea who Gareth Southgate’s first-choice England centre-back was heading to the World Cup later this year, chances are that you said Fikayo Tomori.
But, as things stand, he has played just 36 minutes of international football for the Three Lions – a half-hour cameo against Andorra and a six-minute stint at right-back in a clash with Kosovo.
There are currently six England games still scheduled for the start of the World Cup at the end of November, giving Tomori more time to prove why he should be first choice in his defence.
Southgate still seem keen to stick with the Harry Maguire and John Stones partnership, but have recalled Tomori for the upcoming Nations League games against Hungary, Germany and Italy.
All he can do now is keep doing what he did in Italy. That and offering his international boss a ticket to the San Siro next season…
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