Romelu Lukaku vs Thomas Tuchel
Last week, Sky Italia released a stunning interview with Romelu Lukaku in which the striker questioned Thomas Tuchel‘s tactics, said he was unhappy at Stamford Bridge, and reaffirmed his loyalty to his former club Inter Milan. The ill-timed and incredulous interview was branded “unnecessary noise” by the German coach. However, the interview is much more than noise. It is disrespectful (Chelsea never granted permission for the interview), ignorant, shows disloyalty, and oozes laughable grandiosity. The interview is even more annoying when you remember that Inter fans rejected his apologies to them.
What did Romelu Lukaku say?
“I’m always thinking about Milano, Milano, Milano. Inter fans are the best in the world. I love the city and the best moment of my career was at Inter. I am in love with Italy – I have Inter in my heart. Last summer, I went to talk to the Inter board and I asked for a new contract. I said: I’m 28, I wanted to plan my life in Italy with a new deal, but Inter said no. Maybe there wasn’t the economic possibility. For me, it was difficult to accept. If there had been the offer of a new contract from Inter last summer as I wanted, we would not be doing this interview from London, but quietly from Milano.”
“Physically I’m fine, even better than before. After two years in Italy, in which I worked a lot at Inter with trainers and nutritionists, I am physically fine. But I’m not happy with the situation, this is normal. I think the coach has chosen to play with another system, I just have to not give up and continue to work and be a professional. I am not happy with the situation, but I am a worker and I must not give up. I think everything that happened was not supposed to happen like this. How I left Inter, how I communicated with the fans, this bothers me because it is not the right time now, but even when I left it was not the right time. Now I think it is right to speak because I have always said that I have Inter in my heart, I will return to play there, I really hope so. I am in love with Italy, this is rightly the time to talk and let people know what really happened without talking badly about people because I am not like that.”
“I really hope from bottom of my heart to return to Inter, not at the end of my career, but when I’m still at the top level to win more together. I want to apologize to the Inter fan, the timing of my words was wrong: what you did for me will remain forever.”
Chelsea have been in a rot since December with injuries and covid-19 threatening to derail their promising start to the season. They drew four games during the month and lost to London rivals, West Ham. Chelsea gave up their lead at the top of the table and are now 10 points behind Manchester City and Pep Guardiola. They also gave up the top spot in their UEFA Champions League group to Juventus when they drew against Zenit. This was not the sort of interview they were hoping for to round out the year. Chelsea fans were caught out by the coldness of the interview after Lukaku had professed Chelsea as his home and the only club he could have left Inter for upon return. Where is the honor? Are words simply fleeting utterances?
The timing of the interview makes things more complicated. He gave the interview after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against Manchester United. If the interview dropped then, maybe things could have been better. That was Chelsea’s 11th match without a loss (8 wins, 1 draw + penalty win, 2 draws). Lukaku was on a barren run and feeling disappointed, but he should have reigned in his tongue. Maybe if the interview had dropped then, things could have been calmer, but that’s a huge if. Questioning your coach’s module change in front of a journalist and cameras is not the right way to go about it. At the point of the interview, Lukaku was just returning from injury, and there was no need for the outburst. Lukaku has also gotten back into the Chelsea starting XI since then, and the goals are flowing again. The interview was unwarranted.
The disrespectful interview has appalled the footballing community with Paolo di Canio, Graeme Souness, and former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink criticizing Lukaku. Chelsea fans have asked for the player to be sold in the January transfer window even after the Belgian was dropped for their classic encounter against Liverpool. Thomas Tuchel said he decided with the leaders of the Chelsea dressing room. The whole footballing world is behind Thomas Tuchel and whatever decision he takes. Higher-ups at Chelsea are also showing support for the manager however he wants to deal with the matter. A Monday morning meeting between the player and coach will decide if the Belgian will be in the squad for Tottenham on Wednesday. The overly eager papers have linked Lukaku with a reunion with Antonio Conte.
Chelsea fans must be tired of their Belgian players talking too much with Eden Hazard notoriously mentioning Real Madrid as his dream destination every other day despite wearing Chelsea colors. Thibaut Courtois was also notably unnecessarily outspoken. Kevin de Bruyne continues to drop snippets from his time in darker blue colors. The fans want to see some punishment and a strong statement from the club. Lukaku’s attitude towards the blowout has been horrendous too. He has not offered any form of apology for the mess he has created. The only visible activity he has done is to change his intro on Facebook to “Inter Milan”. That is even more damning and appalling.
In conclusion, Chelsea need to lay down a marker with Lukaku. A healthy 2-game ban is a start and if any more noise comes from his camp, Chelsea should consider a summer sale. It has been a very disappointing episode for Lukaku who has always behaved professionally. However, this is a mess that requires strict discipline.