Another Ace in NFF’s Sleeve

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Fikayo Tomori

If there is one thing that the present board of the Nigeria Football Federation does effectively, it is wooing European players of Nigerian descent to star for the Super Eagles in what the federation President, Amaju Pinnick, described as ‘VIP Scouting’. In its attempt to win another ‘soul’ for the Eagles, Pinnick was in London recently to woo Canadian-born Chelsea central defender, Fikayo Tomori to play for Nigeria

The President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, has said the technical department of the NFF would take a decision in the coming weeks as regards Chelsea defender, Fikayo Tomori.

The Chelsea defender born to Nigerian father is eligible to play for England, Nigeria and Canada his country of birth.

The NFF President who was at Stamford Bridge last Saturday where Chelsea were held to a 2-2 draw by Sheffield saw  Tomori in the Chelsea colours and confirmed that a plan will be drawn soon.

It came as a little surprise when Frank Lampard brought back Tomori from loan after his splendid performance with Derby Counter in which he was voted the club’s season-best player.

Last Saturday, Tomori was handed his full Premier League debut by Lampard against Sheffield United as the youngster partnered Kurt Zouma in central defence against the Blades and did a good job, especially in the first half.

Having not been able to recruit new players in the summer transfer window due to their transfer ban, Lampard has incorporated Tomori and other exciting talents into the first team but was behind Andreas Christensen in the pecking order before the match against Sheffield United.

The Denmark star had started each of the previous three Premier League matches and the UEFA Super Cup against Liverpool.

Explaining why Tomori got the nod over Christensen, Lampard said: “Because I think Tomori played very well for me last year and training at a very high level. There is competition at centre-back, he deserved to play and I thought he played well. It was just a choice.”

Tomori has now played three competitive matches for Chelsea following his appearance against Sheffield United.

However, Tomori believes lessons can be learnt and improvements made as Chelsea surrendered a 2-0 half-time lead against Sheffield United to draw with the Blades at Stamford Bridge last Saturday afternoon.

The young defender replaced Christensen at centre-back in the only change from the win at Norwich City the previous weekend, earning his full Blues debut in the process. He looked generally assured alongside Zouma in defence, although goals conceded right at the start and end of the second period cost Lampard a first win as boss on home soil.

“We’re all angry because when you’re 2-0 up at home then the game should be safe,” the 21-year-old said afterwards when reflecting on the result.

“We said at half-time that we wanted to up it again but we didn’t do that. We conceded a goal really early on in the second half and it becomes very difficult when you do that. It’s disappointing but we just have to learn from it.”

“This is Chelsea, we’re a big club and there’s a lot of expectations but we’re here to try to meet those expectations,” he added

“There are high standards and when we fall below those standards then, of course, there will be questions. It’s not always going to be perfect but in games like today, when we’re in such a strong position and then we throw it away, it’s disappointing.”

Tomori was one of three Chelsea Academy graduates who started the game, alongside Mason Mount and two-goal Tammy Abraham, while Billy Gilmour also made his first appearance late on as a substitute.

The starting line-up was the youngest ever named by Chelsea in the Premier League and, while Tomori believes that is positive news, he insists it should only be the starting point for him and his contemporaries.

“I’m here to try and push everyone else in the squad in my position so it was nice to get my full debut,” he continued. “I’m very proud but it would have been even better for us to get the win.

“It’s what we’ve worked for all those years to achieve. Tammy and I have been here since we were seven and so has Mason, even though he’s a year younger than us.

“We’ve gone through the whole process and we’ve seen a lot of people come and go so to get to this stage is good but obviously now we want more. We want to really cement our places in the team and do big things for this club.”

Before the closure of the summer transfer window Scottish champions, Celtic had explored ways to sign Tomori. The Hoops plotted a move to land the signature of the England U-21 star on a permanent transfer after an amazing season on loan at Derby County, whom he helped reach the Championship playoffs final. But it was not to be as new Chelsea Manager, Lampard had other ideas.

The 21-year-old, who came through Chelsea Academy won the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League with the club before making his senior Blues debut on the final day of the 2015/16 season against Leicester City.

Tomori made 49 appearances for Derby in all competitions last season and helped them into the promotion play-off.

‘‘I came here on loan so I was not expecting to win this, I just came to do my best,” said Tomori after collecting his Player of the Season award.

‘‘I try not to let it sink into my head because otherwise I may lose concentration but it is nice to hear,’’ he said.

Tomori thoroughly impressed during his season-long stint from Stamford Bridge, starting 40 of the Rams’ 43 league games and also playing in all eight of their cup matches.

Lampard has spoken highly of Tomori following the central defender’s impressive performances upon joining Derby County on loan in August 2018.

The Nigeria Football Federation target also impressed for the Young Lions during the U-21 EURO, picking up the Man of the Match award in his last game against Poland.

Tomori, who previously enjoyed loan spells at Brighton & Hove and Hull City, has not played for Chelsea’s first team since making his professional debut against Leicester City on May 15, 2016, until the arrival of Lampard as manager this season.

“His progression this year has been incredible. From when he came in, he was a good young player anyway, but you can see how pivotal he has been in our team. He has grown from within and I’ve enjoyed working with him day to day.

“He wants to learn and improve his game but all the attributes he has, he is using them,” Lampard said of Tomori.