The Super Eagles cannot watch on as England and Canada tussle over the centre-back’s future
Last month, Chelsea defender Fikayo Tomori spoke about his decision to swap an international future with Canada to play for England.
The centre-back had represented the land of his birth on three occasions for the U-20 side before switching nationality to represent England in 2016.
He was an U-20 World Cup winner with the Three Lions last year, having earlier captained The Canucks to a 2-1 victory over England.
“Up until U-18s I hadn’t played for England or any country,” the Derby County loanee told journalists, as per the Derby Telegraph, when explaining his decision.
“Canada gave me that platform to showcase myself, but just before the Euros I got called up by England.
“Growing up in England and playing for Chelsea, I wanted to play for England.”
The defender has subsequently represented England’s U-21s nine times, and also has 20 caps at U-19 and U-20 level to his name.
“When that opportunity came it was difficult because I had already played three or four times for Canada,” he continued.
“It was a difficult decision, and I took a lot of time debating it, but after that we won the World Cup so I think it was a good decision.”
Of course, having not represented the Three Lions at senior level in a competitive fixture, Tomori could still turn out for the CONCACAF side’s A team at a later date.
Obviously, there are no guarantees that the defender, who will turn 21 later this month but has only one Premier League appearance to his name, will muscle his way into the Three Lions setup.
John Stones and Joe Gomez, at 24 and 21, will take some dislodging, while Everton’s Michael Keane is still only 25.
Gareth Southgate even handed a maiden cap to Lewis Dunk earlier this year, despite also being able to call upon Harry Maguire, James Tarkowski, Phil Jones, Alfie Mawson and Chris Smalling.
The likes of Joe Worrall, Rob Holding, Reece Oxford and Ezri Konsa will also hope to be competing for central defensive berths in the years to come.
The example of Gomez, only seven months older than Tomori, highlights how far the Derby man has to go to compete for a squad place, let alone a starting spot.
Certainly, the youngster’s failings were exposed early in the campaign, where he struggled in a 4-1 defeat by Leeds United—he was at fault for three of the Whites’ goals—and missed a series of crucial headers.
His positioning was also sub-par, yet coach Frank Lampard kept faith with the defender, and has reaped the rewards.
“He has had some outstanding games for us but he has also had some games where his concentration levels could have been a little bit better,” Derby assistant coach Jody Morris told journalists, as per Talksport.
“That’s not me digging him out, it is me realising he has the capabilities to perform at the levels he has shown in a few of the games, more often.”
As Tomori has settled, so Derby have grown, and are nestled firmly in the playoff positions as we enter the testing festive period.
He’s a reactive defender, who takes risks and occasionally prompts a nervous moment or two among supporters, but Tomori reads the game well, boasts impressive physical attributes and will continue to learn a lot alongside the experienced Andy Keogh.
Instead of waiting to see England and Canada battle over Tomori’s international future, Nigeria and the NFF ought to step in and convince the defender that he has his best chances of a long and successful international career with the Super Eagles.
While the Oyinbo Wall of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun is an area of strength for the national side at the moment, they are not infallible, and have been troubled by both long, high balls over the top and speedy, nimble forwards.
Tomori enjoys playing in a high defensive line, where he can anticipate the play and match opposition forwards for pace.
His ability on the ball would also allow the Eagles to push higher up, enjoy a greater share of possession, and impose themselves against the continent’s weaker sides.
He could certainly rival another Chelsea loanee, Kenneth Omeruo, for the role of first standby, and offers a greater dimension than Semi Ajayi, who also plays in the Championship.
Adeleye Aniyikaye, Stephen Eze and Chidozie Awaziem are other options, but none appear to have convinced Gernot Rohr of their qualities to date.
Under the tenure of Amaju Pinnick, several dual-nationality players—the likes of Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham—have remained elusive, but convincing Ola Aina and Alex Iwobi to turn out for the Eagles ought to tempt others to the fold.
Securing Tomori’s international future ought to be an NFF priority in 2019.