FIKAYO TOMORI is clever, there’s no two ways about it.
After passing his 11+ exams, he came out of his GCSEs with six As, three Bs and a C despite spending most of those two years sat on the M25.
The 21-year-old is now studying a business management degree with the Open University in his spare time and his performances in the heart of Chelsea’s defence this season prove he is intelligent on the field, too.
But on Saturday Tomori faces his toughest examination so far when he pits his footballing brains up against arguably the world’s best attack.
In the words of the invigilator: “You have 90 minutes, good luck.”
If this season – and his efforts over the years at Gravesend Grammar School – are anything to go by, he will have done his homework and few would be surprised if he comes out top of the class.
‘HAVE YOU HEARD, SIR?’
Before breaking through under Frank Lampard, the Canada-born defender was best known by many for fracturing Diego Costa’s nose with a flailing elbow in training in February 2016.
Gareth Rapley, Tomori’s PE teacher at Gravesend, remembers how his ex-pupil became infamous for the incident – and how his former classmates responded.
He told SunSport: “You don’t get to see the papers and headlines quite often because you’re in school first thing in the morning.
“‘Have you heard, Sir?’ the kids said. Of all the things I could have heard, what is it this time?
“‘Fikayo broke Costa’s nose,’ they said. The rumour mill starts that way and it goes around.
“What was amusing about that was not that it happened but the way our boys reacted, like they expect you to know all these things.”
Tomori spent his secondary school years between 2009 and 2014 at the selective school in Kent.
Ironically, it is very much a rugby school, with the field dominated by rugby posts in pride of place and the football goals tucked away in the back corner, out of use.
But now they have as many senior England football internationals as those with the other shaped ball after Gareth Southgate brought Tomori on against Kosovo.
According to assistant head James Fotheringham, Tomori is the first Gravesend pupil to “really make it” as a footballer.
Mr Fotheringham said: “In the 18 years I’ve been here, we’ve had a number of boys promised the world by different football clubs and then they get dropped and end up nowhere.
‘HE’S SO BRIGHT’
“I asked Chelsea, ‘What makes Fikayo different?’ The guy said, ‘Because he’s got all the attributes of a footballer’s skills but he’s incredibly bright and he just reads the game. He’s got a couple of yards on people because he’s so bright.’”
Gravesend Grammar is so focused on rugby – there is inter-house rugby and school teams throughout – that they are quick to ensure they do not get any of the credit for Tomori’s success.
Well, except for one part, when the defender faced Chelsea while on loan with Derby…
History teacher James Deamer – who is still waiting for his GCSE pupil to deliver on Chelsea tickets against his beloved Spurs – said: “We were watching a lot when he was on loan at Derby, before he became big in the Premier League, Champions League and England.
“We’ve always followed his career, scoring that cracking own goal – that was what we put into his career as a school!”
While his teachers are reluctant to take the glory for Tomori’s footballing success, they deserve to be proud of the polite, determined young man they helped nurture alongside parents Yinka and Mo.
It would have been easy for the “incredibly bright” Under-20 World Cup winner to let his intelligence go to waste.
By Year 11, he was spending two days a week at Cobham, three at Gravesend and any spare minutes catching up with work in the car between the two.
As his manager Lampard can testify, you don’t achieve excellent GCSE results – Tomori even opted against doing PE – without a decent work ethic and a natural academic ability.
‘NEVER BILLY BIG-MAN’
Mr Deamer said: “Fikayo was on the books at Chelsea but always did his work, always kept up to date, putting in loads of effort, really conscientious.
“To put it into context, he did really well but he was the kind of guy intelligence-wise that could have come out with A*s. He’s not just sports with a bit of brains.
“Some of the other boys we’ve had didn’t really act in that way. It started to go to their head and they got arrogant. But never with him.
“It was only because I taught him that I knew what he was doing. There was never any of that Billy-big-man attitude.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he is making many intelligent moves now with his money, investing, making sure he’s sorted in the future.”
There is no doubt Tomori was a model student. He proved that talent, enthusiasm and dedication is a recipe for success.
Now his teachers are hoping he can inspire the next generation at Gravesend with a visit and delivery of promised signed shirts.
Today’s pupils are already emulating the Blues defender by kicking a football around at lunch and playing house rugby – but they might not be doing gymnastics like Tomori did.
‘MORE THAN A SPORTING ROLE MODEL’
Mr Rapley added: “Fikayo was quite tall and lanky, even in Year 7. He was always smiling, always cheery, just a nice kid to be around.
“He would have a go at gymnastics, he wasn’t afraid to throw himself into stuff he probably hadn’t done before.
“Fikayo’s not just a sporting role model. I want him to come and talk to my A-Level kids about what it’s like to be a professional sportsperson.”
But any chance of the students lifting the same trophies Tomori won with Gravesend is off – because he was not allowed to play for the school. Well, technically not.
Like many academies, Chelsea blocked their youngster representing anyone else, mainly in a bid to prevent injuries to a player they had invested plenty into.
He always watched and supported his friends – and would bring his boots just in case he could persuade Mr Deamer to let him have a few minutes.
Mr Fotheringham revealed: “There is a story where he went on in central midfield for the last ten, sprayed the ball about, scored a couple of goals and came off.
“He always supported the school, taking part in sports day, playing house rugby. He was just good at everything. And very humble, and still humble now.”
BIG HIT AT THE GRAD BALL
Tomori and his family made the difficult decision to leave Gravesend and go to Chelsea full-time at 16.
There was a genuine consideration of rejecting the Blues’ offer due to their dire record with promoting youngsters and Tomori’s potential to succeed at sixth form.
But he did return two years later as he joined his pals for the graduation ball, where he was unsurprisingly the centre of attention.
Mr Deamer explained with a smile: “I remember all the boys talking about the fact that he turned up.
“These are students, 18-year-olds at grad ball and he’s turning up in an Audi with a diamond earring!
“Apparently he was the most popular bachelor on offer that night!”
The most popular bachelor on offer that night and now Fikayo Tomori is the most popular centre-back on offer to Frank Lampard. And it is easy to see why.