When it comes to letting young players go before exploring their true worth, Chelsea have something of mastery in this. The Blues are notorious for releasing players who have often come back to hurt them in the future. Names like Kevin De Bruyne, Mo Salah, and Romelu Lukaku immediately come to mind.The latest confirmed transfer of Fikayo Tomori to AC Milan has raised some eyebrows and is reminiscent of such instances of star players being let go off.
Chelsea have 33 players either out on loan or linked with a loan move.
Enough players for three starting XIs. pic.twitter.com/y2qwGFss2D
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 7, 2018
Chelsea have one of the largest loan systems going on, where they send scores of players out each season to various clubs in Europe. Many end up leaving the club without having any senior team appearances to their name despite staying for years. With promising defender Fikayo Tomori joining AC Milan for £24million yesterday, could this be the latest in a line of Chelsea’s follies?
Tomori came up through the youth ranks at Chelsea, playing for the U19 and U-23 sides. He made his Premier League debut in 2016, before being sent back to the U-23s till January 2017. That was when the classic fate to befall a Chelsea graduate started for him as well. Tomori was loaned out to Brighton & Hove Albion, Hull City, and Derby County.
Congratulations to 18-year-old Fikayo Tomori on making his Chelsea debut on Sunday! pic.twitter.com/cLvAsbzvVO
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 17, 2016
Discounting his three senior appearances for the Blues at the beginning of the 2017-18 season, he had his most successful spell with the Rams in the Championship. He appeared 44 times in the second division, with a passing accuracy of 83% and tackles success rate of 58% including 170 clearances. His manager at the time, Blues legend Frank Lampard, was given the chance to lead his old side in 2019.
All I can say is THANK YOU to all my teammates, staff and fans for making me feel so welcome at this club since day 1.
Unfortunately I couldn’t help get this great club back to the Premier League, but I’m so proud of what we achieved as a team this season.. pic.twitter.com/o3DbVqeNkg
— Fikayo Tomori (@fikayotomori_) May 30, 2019
That signaled a return to the first team for Tomori, who managed to make 21 appearances across all competitions, all of which were starts. He even started four games in the Champions League, which helped him garner some much needed European exposure. His fortunes changed drastically this season, with Tomori featuring just once in the Premier League till January.
Can't get enough of it 🤩🤩
A big congratulations to @fikayotomori_ on winning Goal of the Season award! 🏆
— Chelsea India ⭐⭐ (@ChelseaIndia) August 25, 2020
Though he did appear four times in the Europa League campaign of the Blues, it was clear that his immediate future lay away from London. In the winter transfer window, Tomori joined AC Milan on loan in Serie A. He quickly established himself as a starter for the Rossoneri, thereby relegating club captain Alessandro Romagnoli to the bench.
🔎 | FOCUS
Milan got the big 3:0 win away to Juventus, with Fikayo Tomori as their star man:
— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) May 9, 2021
From January till the end of the season, he racked up 16 starts which included nine clean sheets. Tomori’s standout performance was against Juventus, in his side’s 3-0 win over the Old Lady. He scored his first goal in Italy and was imperious at the back leading to man-of-the-match honours. Thus, after such a strong six months, it is no surprise that AC Milan have chosen to sign him on a permanent basis by triggering his release clause. AC Milan who return to the Champions League next season will find Tomori more than useful.
NO PLACE AT THE BRIDGE
The decision to let Tomori leave so easily, especially after knowing him for so many years is a really surprising decision. Furthermore, his performances with Milan should have convinced the Chelsea board that it was imperative to keep him at the club. Though this shows their faith in the current crop of defenders at Stamford Bridge, one cannot help but wonder if Tomori is leaving too soon.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) June 17, 2021
Thomas Tuchel has been using three central defenders at the back since his arrival, and if one were to consider longevity- only Antonio Rudiger seems a solid fit. Thiago Silva is old and slow, a fact not unnoticed by many of the quick attackers of their opponents. Cesar Azpilicueta is a fantastic leader and marshal of his troops, but he is also not getting any younger. Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma are the bench options, and Tomori makes a strong case of being a substitute instead of either.
— Chelsea FC News (@Chelsea_FL) June 14, 2021
The 23-year-old is one of the quickest defenders in the game, and is excellent when it comes to reading the game. He averages 12.70 pressures and 2.50 blocks P90, which rank him in the top 90 and 97 percentile of players in his position respectively. His Milan spell has certainly been eye opening on a grander scale to what Tomori is capable of if given the right environment and support. That is where the key issues of conflict lay.
— UEFA Europa League (@EuropaLeague) March 17, 2021
Tomori, presumably, wanted to remain a starter for a team which to be frank, was not going to happen at Chelsea. However, AC Milan were clearly overjoyed with his play and wanted him back abroad. That was the kind of the offer that young players want, and the lure of first team football proved too much in the end and rightly so.
Letting the talented centre-back go was a tough but necessary decision for Chelsea, if they are to build on the base that they have created since Tuchel’s arrival. The German has a very clear plan of who he wants to play and hardly tinkers with his team sheet unless necessary. All of which almost guaranteed that Tomori will not be seeing even a fraction of the game time next season that he was seeing at San Siro, which made his transfer a sensible one for all involved for the greater good.