England manager Gareth Southgate is unconvinced by the idea of having the World Cup every two years, questioning the feasibility of continuously adding to the football calendar.

The idea of a biennial World Cup had been floated in the past, but in recent months it seems to have become a much more likely next step for the competition.

Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger publicly backed the idea back in July and, as FIFA's head of global football development, the Frenchman has argued a revamp of the international football calendar is both "what the fans want" and a necessity for the improvement of player wellbeing.

FIFA has been carrying out a feasibility study on the prospect of a World Cup every two years and last month held an online summit to discuss plans.

But FIFA's Wenger-backed proposals have been met with antipathy from many key stakeholders, such as confederations, officials, leagues, players and clubs.

UEFA has been particularly scathing in its response to the idea, with president Aleksander Ceferin openly in opposition and vice-president Zbigniew Boniek rather callously questioning the mental sanity of such a proposal.

Southgate was less forthright but still expressed a hint of disagreement.

"I don't know how far things have progressed. There seemed to be a lot of things not in the original proposal I was shown; it is hard to keep track," he told reporters on Monday ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Hungary.

"We all want high-level games; the Nations League showed the quality and that is exactly what we want to be involved in, but you can't just keep adding to the calendar."

England midfielder Mason Mount was in attendance with Southgate and agreed with the idea that players should be consulted when such proposals are being drawn up, though he seemed to be open to playing a major tournament every year.

"I'd love that, but after the Euros and everything we went through, it [recovering mentally] probably did take longer than anything else," he said.

"You reflect on how it went – it was obviously such a big heartbreak to go all the way then fall at the last hurdle was difficult."

On player consultation, he added: "To have the players' input would be positive, I think.

"We want to play in as many top tournaments and games as possible, we want to be involved. To speak to us would be positive and help shape the future."

Ben Stokes was not included in the England squad for the Ashes tour of Australia.

The all-rounder was expected to be left out of the 17-man group after having a second operation on his broken index finger.

Stokes, who sustained the injury while playing in the Indian Premier League in April, announced in July he was taking a break from cricket to protect his mental wellbeing and allow his finger to recover.

Sam Curran, who was diagnosed with a stress fracture to his lower back in the past week, was also omitted from head coach Chris Silverwood's squad for the five-match series in Australia, which starts on December 8 in Brisbane.

Fast bowlers Jofra Archer and Olly Stone remain absent as they recover from injuries, but Stuart Broad is selected after suffering a torn calf muscle during England's home Test series with India in July.

Joe Root will be captain and Jos Buttler vice-captain of a side consisting entirely of players previously capped at Test level.

 

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) only confirmed on Friday that the tour would be going ahead amid possible concerns around coronavirus restrictions in Australia.

While "several critical conditions" must still be met for the Ashes to proceed, the ECB said "positive discussions" were ongoing and that "it is hoped matters will be resolved in due course".

Silverwood said he was "delighted that all of our available players have committed to the tour" despite the likes of Root and Buttler previously expressing doubts.

"A tour of Australia is the pinnacle as an England Test cricketer," he said.

"This is why we play and coach to be involved in iconic series like this. More than half of our squad haven't featured in an Ashes tour before, which means we will be fresh and looking to embrace the cricket and the excitement of touring one of the best places in the world.

"I believe we have selected a well-balanced squad with options in all areas and a blend of youth and experience. There is real competition for places and a genuine desire to work hard and compete, aiming to create some history."

England are looking to regain the urn after it was retained by Australia following a 2-2 series draw in 2019.

England squad for the Ashes:

Joe Root (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

Gareth Southgate was not surprised by Phil Foden's outstanding England display against Andorra, while he backed Jadon Sancho to recover his best form at Manchester United.

Foden came into the international break having dazzled on the left wing for Manchester City in last week's 2-2 draw with Liverpool, scoring one goal and having a hand in the other.

The 21-year-old was not on the scoresheet in Saturday's 5-0 World Cup qualifying win, but he controlled the game from the centre of midfield.

Having played the pass that cut Andorra open for Ben Chilwell's opener, Foden got an assist for Bukayo Saka's second. The last England duo aged 21 or under to combine for a World Cup qualifying goal had been Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.

Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish added goals after half-time, but Foden remained the star.

Although there was one wild, wayward shot, he created three chances and completed 94.7 per cent of his 76 passes, including 93.1 per cent of 58 in the Andorra half.

England have been accused of lacking control in the centre of the pitch in their biggest games, so manager Southgate was intrigued by Foden's display – even if he expected the City man would thrive.

"The quality we know," Southgate told a news conference. "For us, it's really interesting the possibilities with him in terms of his positioning moving forward.

"Today was a perfect game, because the whole team had no need for defending, so you're only analysing one part of the game against a certain level of opponent.

"Nevertheless, to see the passes and to have the quality to hit the passes he did is apparent for everybody.

"Not just him, but as one or two others in that midfield get stronger, I think it's exciting to see how we might evolve as a team in certain matches and how that balance and creativity might continue to progress.

"I'm not surprised that his performance was the standout tonight. We half-expected it when we named the team, really.

"I think [identifying his best position] is difficult, because frankly he's one of those players that is effective across that front line, if you play him seven, 11, 10, eight.

"A traditional 4-3-3 formation, with a six, eight, 10, [he would be] the 10 within that but with the capability to drop lower and to build the play at times as he did tonight.

"I think part of that is as he gets stronger, and part of that is the balance of the type of player who might play as the other eight, as well, and their qualities.

"Look, it's fabulously exciting, isn't it, when you're trying to break down a defence as you are tonight and you've got a player who can see the passes that he sees and hit them and execute them in the way that he did.

"Towards the end of the game, there were some lovely bits of combination – Foden, Mount, Grealish, Saka – the type of play that our players are capable of producing is really exciting."

While Foden has two goals and two assists in six club games this term on one side of Manchester, new United signing Sancho has yet to register one of either in nine outings.

He got two assists on Saturday, though, including teeing up Chilwell after Foden's pass.

Southgate said: "It was not easy for a winger in the game tonight, because quite often you're receiving the ball with two, sometimes three defenders really close.

"You've got to pick the right moments to set the ball off and the right moments to back yourself to maybe take one or two of those players out. I thought he did that exceptionally well.

"It was important that he got the assist, because you've also got to have that productivity, and the right pass or the right cross at the end of those packages of play.

"When I've spoken to him this week, we shouldn't be surprised that for a young player to have such a big change in his life – new league, new club, different style of play, different training regime, back living in Manchester, moving house, everything that's involved in that – that's a lot to take in.

"It's going to need time, but he showed a lot of the qualities he has, and I know that will come with the club as well."

Jack Grealish was delighted to finally get off the mark in an England shirt after adding the final goal in Saturday's 5-0 win at Andorra.

A reshuffled England side were comfortable throughout as they closed on World Cup qualification, recording their sixth win in seven matches in this campaign.

The Three Lions were two up by half-time through Ben Chilwell and Bukayo Saka, the latter assisted by the outstanding Phil Foden. It was the first time two England players aged 21 or under had combined for a World Cup qualifying goal since Steven Gerrard's assist for Michael Owen against Germany in 2001.

Tammy Abraham got in on the act after half-time, before Grealish made a significant impact from the bench.

In 17 minutes, the £100million man won a penalty, which James Ward-Prowse saw saved before tucking away the rebound, and then hit the net following Sam Johnstone's throw from an Andorra set-piece.

The last substitute to win a penalty and score a goal in a European World Cup qualifier while playing 17 minutes or fewer had been Nicklas Bendtner in a six-minute cameo for Denmark against the Republic of Ireland in November 2017.

Grealish's goal came in his 16th appearance for his country, and the Manchester City winger acknowledged the drought had been on his mind. 

"It has been a long time coming, and it's about time that I scored because everyone has been saying it to me," Grealish told BBC 5 live.

 

"I think that is 16 games now. It was coming, and I'm just delighted that I've got off the mark.

"I want to be starting games, to be starting the biggest of games and keep playing for England. Luckily over the past few months and during the Euros I've had the chance to do that.

"In the back of my mind there has been that feeling that I've just wanted to score, just to get off the mark. Obviously I've done that tonight, I'm delighted, and it's a night I won't forget."

For Abraham, meanwhile, it was his first England goal for almost two years.

The Roma striker became the first England player to score while affiliated to an Italian team since David Platt, then with Sampdoria, netted against Sweden in 1995.

"I need to keep performing for my club and I hope I'll be in more camps going forward leading to the World Cup," said Abraham.

"It is never straightforward against Andorra. It was hard to break them down, but you could see the quality in the team as we had to find ways to score, and we did.

"I knew the opportunity would come. Jadon told me at half-time that sometimes he would cut back on his right and try and find me in the middle of the goal, so I should be ready.

"I was ready that time and got a good toe onto the ball. I was in the right place at the right time and I took my chance."

Bukayo Saka and Tammy Abraham were on target as England cruised to a comfortable 5-0 win over Andorra in World Cup qualifying Group I on Saturday.

Gareth Southgate named a largely second-string outfit at the Estadi Nacional but they had no problem dispatching a side ranked 153 places beneath them, Ben Chilwell setting them on their way in the 17th minute with his first international goal. 

Bukayo Saka added a second before half-time, while Tammy Abraham, James Ward-Prowse and Jack Grealish sealed the most routine of wins in the second period. 

A sixth win in seven group games means England move onto 19 points at the summit, while Andorra remain in fifth on three points. 

The Andorra Football Federation (FAF) expects Saturday's World Cup qualifier with England to go ahead as planned, despite a fire breaking out at their Estadi Nacional ground on the eve of the game.

The fire, which started a few hours after Gareth Southgate's squad had been training at the 3,300-capacity stadium, caused thick black smoke and was dealt with by fire crews.

A television gantry went up in flames while a VAR monitor and a dugout appeared to be damaged. Some of the playing surface towards the touchline was also burned.

However, the FAF has moved to allay fears that the fixture is at risk of being postponed or moved to a new venue. 

"No personal harm has been reported, only material damage. The schedule will continue as planned and the match will go ahead," a statement read on Friday.

UEFA is expected to have the final say on whether the game will take place at Estadi Nacional.

England lead the way at the top of Group I ahead of this weekend's contest, sitting four points clear of second-place Albania and a further point in front of Poland.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has conditionally approved for The Ashes tour to go ahead in Australia.

England captain Joe Root and his deputy Jos Buttler are among the players who stated they were not ready to commit to the five-match series due to uncertainty over coronavirus restrictions.

Bubble fatigue and quarantine periods for the players' families are issues that have been raised, leading to doubts over whether the five-match Test series – due to start at The Gabba on December 8 – will go ahead.

The ECB on Friday confirmed England will tour Australia, providing "several critical conditions" are met before they board the plane.

"Over recent weeks we have made excellent progress in moving forward on the England men's Ashes Tour," an ECB statement said.

"To facilitate further progress and allow a squad to be selected, The ECB Board has met today and given its approval for the tour to go ahead.

"This decision is subject to several critical conditions being met before we travel.

"We look forward to the ongoing assistance from Cricket Australia in resolving these matters in the coming days."

Australia captain Tim Paine earlier stated he expects England to bring a "really strong" side to Australia, with only "one or two" players opting out of the tour.

"I'm hearing a lot of their players will commit," the wicketkeeper told SEN Radio.

"There might be one or two that don't, but I think we'll see a really strong England side come out here."

Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison last month warned England will not benefit from any "special deals" regarding quarantine rules when they arrive in the country.

Paine says he has spoken to the prime minister as Australia wait for confirmation that England will make the long journey to try to regain the urn.

"He was keen to find out what the sticking points might be from a player's perspective," said Paine of his conversations with Morrison.

"I shared a few text messages with him. He loves his cricket."

A fire broke out at Andorra's Estadi Nacional ground the day before the World Cup qualifying match against England.

Gareth Southgate's squad had been training at the 3,300-capacity stadium on Friday around three hours before the blaze started.

The fire, which caused thick black smoke, appeared to take place in the broadcast gantry in between the two dugouts.

After fire crews dealt with the incident, a VAR monitor and one dugout looked to be damaged, while there was also a burnt area of the playing surface towards the touchline.

Initial reports have suggested the fixture is not in doubt, but UEFA must decide if it can go ahead at the original venue.

There must be a back-up venue in place for all qualifying matches, per UEFA rules.

Gareth Southgate has rejected the suggestion that "most" of his England squad are not fully vaccinated against coronavirus and reiterated his support for a vaccine programme.

The subject of wildly varying vaccination rates at Premier League clubs recently prompted a passionate outburst from Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

Southgate supports the vaccination programme and Tammy Abraham this week became the first England player to reveal he had been jabbed, but others have been reluctant to speak about the matter publicly.

Asked about most players in the squad and Premier League in general not being fully vaccinated ahead of England's World Cup qualifier in Andorra, Southgate replied: "I'm not sure that's totally accurate, in terms of 'most', but I think everybody knows where I stand on the subject.

"To move out of a pandemic, the only way is a vaccination programme, I think that was essential.

"There is then the complication that there are lots of individual circumstances around that and I understand that some people would be anxious, perhaps.

"When you are in the camp of mine, over 50, there is less to consider really. The odds are more straightforward, it's a much more straightforward decision and I'm a believer that it's the right thing to do.

"I can kind of understand there are other topics we've talked about where everybody would be aligned and we would all have a very clear view as a team.

"With this, it's a little bit more nuanced, lots of people have had the virus, so maybe they feel the antibodies are high in their own bodies.

"Lots of people might have individual medical conditions, some people in the country might have religious reasons. It's a complicated area, my belief is the route out of the pandemic is a vaccination programme.

"I'm yet to hear anybody offer an alternative and there is not a lot more we can say than that."

Southgate says the England team doctor takes the lead when it comes to communicating with the players on the subject.

He added: "Our doctor over the last year and a half has always spoken to the players about the current situation.

"He has spoken in terms of infection in the country to explain what measures will be needed within the camp for us because those over the 18 months have changed.

"So whether masks are needed indoors for us, the level of testing and whatever that is going to be.

"He's always explaining the benefits of the vaccination. But, of course, we have had to deal with many different topics.

"We also have to prepare a team to play football and sometimes there wouldn't be enough hours to discuss all the things that everybody seems to want us to discuss and prepare a team to play a football match.

"We cannot impact the weather in the next two or three days, we could not jab everyone here in two or three days.

"There is a balance to strike. First and foremost, we are here to win football matches."

England are four points clear of Albania at the top of Group I ahead of Saturday's match with Andorra, who are fifth in the standings.

What is expected to be a more testing match with Hungary follows at Wembley on Tuesday.

Gareth Southgate says England know they are "close" to ending their long wait to win a major trophy as they prepare to try to seal World Cup qualification.

The Three Lions suffered the heartbreak of losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley in July, three years after crashing out of the World Cup in Russia at the semi-final stage.

It is 55 years since England won their only major trophy in the 1966 World Cup on home soil, but they are well on course to get another opportunity in Qatar next year.

England are four points clear at the top of Group I ahead of an away clash with Andorra on Saturday and an encounter with Hungary at Wembley three days later.

Southgate has been impressed with the way his players reacted to missing out on Euro 2020 glory and feels there is a belief they can avoid more agony.

He said: "Ultimately what I like last month [when they thrashed Andorra and Hungary before drawing in Poland] is that there was no hangover in terms of the disappointment and no complacency in terms of the attitude of the players.

"There was a desire to improve, to make sure the next steps are the right ones and keep the standards every day. 

"Of course we've got to qualify first, that's the task over the next five to six days, to get six points.

"But there is a definite understanding that we are close, that we are ranked well in the world and that our results over a period of time have been consistent, but we know we ultimately want to go one step further next time."

It is just over five years since Southgate initially took over as manager on an interim basis before landing the role for the long term.

The ex-England defender says there is much more desire in the camp compared to when he took the reins in 2016.

"Different periods across that timeline, I think the first thing we wanted to do was restore confidence and then across the period of time optimism," he said.

"I think it's best embodied in terms of the players in that I can remember at that time it was difficult to get players to come sometimes. Now we had three lads called into the squad late and they couldn't wait to be here.

"There's lots of markers we could use, but for me in terms of working with the team and the enthusiasm of the team the connection with the country I think they are probably the things at the utmost in my mind."

Southgate brushed off concerns about Harry Kane playing on an artificial pitch in Andorra with his history of ankle trouble and says he has no new injuries to contend with.

England players will no longer be awarded separate red and white ball contracts under a new structure that was revealed on Friday.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced the first 20 players who have been awarded a single contract for 2021-22.

A change of structure was introduced following consultation between the ECB, Team England Player Partnership (TEPP) and the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA).

The ECB stated that it was "designed to meet England's future needs in what has become a fluid and dynamic landscape."

Spinner Jack Leach, batsman Dawid Malan and seamer Ollie Robinson receive central contracts for the first time.

Dom Sibley has lost his central contract after the opener was dropped during the home Test series against India.

All-rounder Liam Livingstone is awarded an increment contract along with seamer Tom Curran, who is among the players to have a white-ball contract for 2020-21.

Dom Bess and Chris Jordan have also been given increment contracts, while Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton and Olly Stone earned pace bowling development contracts.

Managing director of men's England Cricket, Ashley Giles, said: "I would like to thank TEPP and the players for all their constructive input through the process of developing this new system, which I believe is the fairest and most transparent way of rewarding players across all formats.

"We have worked well to get to this stage and the refinements made will take into account the amount of cricket we will be playing across formats over the next period of the ICC Future Tours Programme.

"Since the inception of central contracts in 2002, the system has facilitated improved preparation, performance and professionalism of the England team and has ensured that players are well rewarded for representing their country at the elite level.

"The international game continues to evolve, and we have to be mindful that we have to lead the way in player performance across cricket's ever-changing landscape. Our objective remains the same to develop world-class players in all three formats as we strive to become the most respected team in the world.

"I would like to congratulate all the players offered agreements for the coming year, particularly newcomers Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, and Ollie Robinson. Receiving your first central contract is a great moment in any player's career. They will all play a pivotal role in England's fortunes over the next 12 months."

 

England men's central contracts:

Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Sam Curran, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Eoin Morgan, Ollie Pope, Adil Rashid, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

England increment contracts:

Dom Bess, Tom Curran, Chris Jordan, Liam Livingstone.

England pace bowling development contracts:

Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton, Olly Stone.

Tim Paine expects England to bring a "really strong" team side to Australia for the Ashes with only "one or two" players opting out of the tour.

Captain Joe Root and his deputy Jos Buttler are among the England players who stated they were not ready to commit to the five-match series due to uncertainty over coronavirus restrictions.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is expected to confirm the tour will go ahead following a meeting on Friday, a day after chairman Ian Watmore stepped down.

Australia skipper Paine insisted the Ashes will be starting at The Gabba on December 8 regardless of whether Root decides to travel.

Paine on Friday revealed he has been informed that England will not be hugely depleted.

"I'm hearing a lot of their players will commit," the wicketkeeper told SEN Radio.

"There might be one or two that don't, but I think we'll see a really strong England side come out here."

Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison last month warned England will not benefit from any "special deals" regarding quarantine rules when they arrive in the country.

Paine says he has spoken to the prime minister as Australia wait for confirmation that England will make the long journey to try to regain the urn.

"He was keen to find out what the sticking points might be from a player's perspective," said Paine of his conversations with Morrison.

"I shared a few text messages with him. He loves his cricket."

Harry Kane sits fifth in England's all-time scoring charts, but he could overtake Wayne Rooney's competitive record for the Three Lions against Andorra.

Kane has found the net nine times in 13 appearances in 2021 for Gareth Southgate's men to leave him 12 goals behind Rooney (53) as England's leading scorer.

However, the Tottenham forward has 36 goals to his name in competitive international fixtures – one fewer than Rooney – before the trip to the Estadi Nacional on Saturday.

Kane is also one shy of becoming just the second player to score 10 or more in two separate calendar years for the Three Lions, after Vivian Woodward in 1908 and 1909.

But comparisons between Kane and Rooney are likely to be the focus in the coming months, as the England captain targets his records – starting with this competitive benchmark.

Kane quicker to this point

Since opening his account on debut against Lithuania in March 2015, Kane has scored 36 times across 53 competitive fixtures – averaging a goal every 118 minutes.

By contrast, Rooney played 21 more matches for his 37 goals, netting once every 156 minutes on average having played an additional 1,545 minutes.

Kane, who is still waiting on his first Premier League strike of the season, has needed just 82 shots on target to reach his 36-goal mark as well, with Rooney requiring 32 more to achieve his tally.

Overall, Rooney has attempted 99 more shots than his counterpart, which translates into a 13.8 per cent conversion rate. Kane has turned 21.3 per cent of his 169 shots into goals.

 

Kane delivers on the biggest stage

Rooney may have scored five more goals than Kane (25) in major tournament qualifiers, but the latter shines when it comes to the showpiece events.

Despite playing in just one World Cup, Kane impresses ahead of Rooney in terms of goals at the finals, with his six to claim the 2018 Golden Boot towering above the former Manchester United forward's one across three tournaments between 2006 and 2014.

While Kane's goals were subsequently not enough to see England past Croatia in the semi-finals in Russia, the current Three Lions captain also guided his side to their first major tournament final in 55 years at Euro 2020.

However, Rooney (six) has scored two more European Championship goals than Kane, netting four times at Euro 2004 as he briefly became the youngest scorer in the tournament's history.

Nevertheless, Kane outscores Rooney by three at major tournaments, having proven himself the man for the big occasion on the international stage.

 

Rooney filled his boots with five competitive goals versus San Marino, against whom Kane has netted just once, but England's record scorer had an impressive four against both Croatia and Switzerland.

Kane's best hauls have been his four against Bulgaria and Montenegro, although he did score three in one match against Panama at the World Cup.

Two stars similar finishers

Strangely, Kane and Rooney have almost identical records when it comes to the breakdown of how their goals have been scored.

The pair have each scored four with their left feet and 24 with their favoured right boots, with Rooney heading in nine to Kane's eight.

Kane's swerving long-range finish against Poland last time out was his sole goal from outside the box to date, however, whereas Rooney has smashed in six goals from outside the area – two of those being free-kicks.

Rooney has six from the penalty spot, too, where Kane has proved particularly prolific, his 10 conversions from 12 yards allowing him to close quickly on a fellow great.

England all-rounder Ben Stokes is highly unlikely to feature in The Ashes squad in December after having a second operation on his broken left index finger.

Stokes sustained the injury while playing in the Indian Premier League in April but returned to action with Durham in June.

The 30-year-old also played through the pain barrier in July to captain a second-string ODI side to a series whitewash over visiting Pakistan after an initial coronavirus outbreak ruled out the majority of the regular squad.

However, before the India Test series later that month, Stokes announced he would take a break from cricket to protect his mental wellbeing and to allow his finger to fully recover.

On Thursday, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) provided another update on the all-rounder's injury progress.

"England all-rounder Ben Stokes has undergone a second operation on Monday 4th October to address ongoing issues with the finger that he injured in the IPL in April," the statement said.

"Stokes had two screws and scar tissue removed from the index finger of his left hand. 

"He will now undergo an intensive period of rehabilitation for the next four weeks under the supervision of the ECB's medical team."

 

Stokes is already set to miss the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, which starts on October 17, but the operation puts further doubt on his return in time for The Ashes.

His presence with the touring party in Australia – who will host England if agreements on coronavirus-related bubble issues can be agreed – was already doubtful but the operation makes the likelihood of an appearance even slimmer.

The all-rounder will be sorely missed by Chris Silverwood's tourists if so, with Stokes averaging 38.37 against Australia, whom he scored 135 not out against in one of cricket's most famous knocks at Headingley in 2019.

Fikayo Tomori has credited Milan legend and current technical director Paolo Maldini with helping him improve his game after earning an England recall.

Tomori looked destined for a promising future at Chelsea, returning to the club in 2019-20 to play under Frank Lampard having also linked up with him the previous season at Derby County.

In the Championship, Tomori played 47 times as Derby got to the play-offs, and he proved an able back-up option upon his return to Stamford Bridge as he made 15 Premier League appearances – all as a starter – in 2019-20.

But things soon changed, the signing of Thiago Silva at the start of 2020-21 pushing Tomori further down the pecking order – when January came around, he had played in just one Premier League match and was seemingly heading out of the door.

Tomori joined Milan on loan and quickly established himself in the team, striking up a solid partnership with Simon Kjaer. He could not help the Rossoneri to a first Scudetto in 10 years, but they did end their seven-year Champions League hiatus and Tomori's loan was made permanent.

No team in Europe's top five leagues have kept more domestic clean sheets than Milan (eight) since the start of May, and Tomori's role landed him a recall to the England squad, with the 23-year-old lauding the influence of club great Maldini.

Speaking to reporters ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra, Tomori said: "When he [Maldini] was speaking to me, I was like, 'Wow, it's Paolo Maldini'.

 

"There is that pressure knowing he's watching every game, he's there at the training ground every day, so as a defender I want to impress him.

"When I was midway through my loan, we had a chat, I asked what he thinks about my game, what I need to improve.

"He's really engaging with all the defenders, and having a legend like that around, you're going to listen. It's a nice thing to have him around, and he's been a big help."

For a while it seemed Tomori and Lampard enjoyed a similarly close bond given their time together with Derby and then the Chelsea first team.

But shortly after leaving Chelsea, Tomori said in an interview that he felt the treatment of him by Lampard – who was sacked a matter of days after the defender left – was "personal".

However, Tomori says he has not spent time dwelling on such struggles.

"To be fair, since I've been at Milan I've not really thought about it," he continued. "It was difficult, when you aren't able to play, it is difficult.

"Being able to overcome that, forget about that is part of the reason why now it's going so well. I didn't really dwell on it, I moved on. It's part of football.

"I've a really good support system, and now I've overcome all that I want to keep progressing.

"Every player wants to play, and when that opportunity came at such a big club like Milan, I was so happy, excited, and I'm really happy it's gone so well so far.

"We've started the new season well and the club has shown a lot of faith in me. I'm happy, confident and feeling really settled, and it's led me to be here [back with the England squad]."

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