Romelu Lukaku’s dramatic (but since resolved) fall-out at Chelsea is not an isolated incident at the club. The Blues have previous when it comes to bust-ups.
Of course, that is the risk you run when installing big personalities with huge ambitions in the dugout; the double-edged sword of appointing Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Thomas Tuchel and the like is that success comes at a price and egos inevitably — and invariably — clash behind the scenes.
Lukaku is the latest to add drama to this Stamford Bridge soap opera, and as a result he was dropped for the club’s recent 2-2 draw against Liverpool, with Tuchel suggesting a decision was made to “protect match preparation”. And just like that, a relationship that was seemingly in Kansas almost comes apart like worn Velcro.
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Cautionary tales of past fall-outs should serve as warning signs to those in the Chelsea hotseat, but this is a club that appears to have an addiction to headline making, and here we relive some of the major examples of player bust-ups at the Bridge, of which there appear to be plenty.
“Diego, Diego, Diego!” was once a chant that rang out across the Stamford Bridge terraces as Chelsea fans serenaded their mercurial star striker, but that relationship deteriorated with a single text and resulted in Costa going AWOL before forcing a move back to Atletico Madrid in 2018.
A stellar 2016/17 season saw Costa top score for the Blues as Antonio Conte’s charges lifted the Premier League title, but a text message sent to the forward in which he was told he was no longer part of the Italian’s plans just a few weeks later marked the beginning of a transfer saga fuelled by bad blood.
Atletico Madrid offered their former forward an escape hatch but Chelsea refused to budge on their asking price, leading Costa to accuse the club of treating him “like a criminal” by demanding so much for someone deemed surplus to requirements. A deal was eventually reached and Costa left under a cloud.
Ricardo Carvalho’s centre-back partnership with John Terry was the cornerstone of Chelsea’s record-breaking title defence in Jose Mourinho’s debut season at the Bridge. Then, just like clockwork, things started to unravel at an alarming rate, with the two Portuguese personalities clashing in next season’s curtain-raiser.
Carvalho questioned his manager’s decision to omit him from the club’s 1-0 away win to Wigan on the first day of 2005/06, leading Mourinho to comment: “Ricardo Carvalho seems to have problems understanding things, maybe he should have an IQ test, or go to a mental hospital or something.”
The duo eventually patched things up and Carvalho went on to enjoy a trophy-laden existence in west London, including winning the 2005/06 Premier League title, before reuniting with Mourinho at Real Madrid, the third link-up between the two after Porto and Chelsea.
The man whom Mourinho selected over Carvalho in that now-infamous 1-0 victory at the JJB Stadium, William Gallas, also fell foul of Mourinho’s uncompromising, ruthless approach to man-management, threatening to deliberately score own goals if Chelsea didn’t sanction his move to Arsenal in 2006.
At least, that’s the threat Chelsea claimed Gallas was making in a club statement issued at the time, to which the Frenchman vehemently denied, accusing the Blues of “lacking class” and “hiding behind false accusations”. Then PFA Chief Executive Gordon Taylor also jumped to Gallas’ defence, suggesting the entire saga has left a “bad taste in the mouth”, while Chelsea’s statement should be taken “with a large pinch of salt”.
Gallas eventually crossed the Chelsea-Arsenal divide, with Ashley Cole going in the other direction, and he was bizarrely bestowed the No. 10 jersey, which had been recently vacated by playmaker immortal Dennis Bergkamp, while the Blues’ new left-back went on to reach legendary status in west London.
Kevin De Bruyne
Hindsight is 20/20 as the old adage goes, and if Chelsea knew the level of talent they had at their disposal in De Bruyne, then they would never have let him walk. But, that’s the poisoned chalice of stockpiling talent, you can’t keep everyone happy, and De Bruyne was certainly not happy during his short-lived Chelsea career.
After enjoying a fruitful loan spell at Werder Bremen in 2012/13 Mourinho, returning for his second tour of duty as Chelsea manager, convinced De Bruyne to stick around and gave him first-team assurances. Ultimately though, those were not realised and the Belgian moved permanently to Wolfsburg in January 2014.
Speaking about his decision to leave in 2019, De Bruyne wrote in the Player’s Tribune that he felt the club ‘didn’t want him’: “Klopp wanted me to come to Borussia Dortmund, and they played the kind of football that I enjoy. So I thought maybe Chelsea would let me go.
“But then Mourinho texted me: ‘You are staying. I want you to be part of this team’.
“So I thought, ‘O.K., great. I’m in his plans’.
He continued: “Jose called me into his office in December, and it was probably the second big life-changing moment for me. He had some papers in front of him, and he said: ‘One assist. Zero goals. Ten recoveries’. It took me a minute to understand what he was doing.
“Then he started reading the stats of the other attacking forwards — Willian, Oscar, Mata, Schurrle. And it’s like — five goals, 10 assists, whatever.
“Jose was just kind of waiting for me to say something, and finally I said: ‘But … some of these guys have played 15, 20 games. I’ve only played three. So it’s going to be different, no?’
“It was so strange. We had a bit of a conversation about me going back out on loan. And Mata was also out of favour at the time, so Jose said: ‘Well, you know, if Mata leaves, then you will be the fifth choice instead of sixth’.
“I was completely honest. I said, ‘I feel like the club doesn’t really want me here. I want to play football. I’d rather you sell me’.”
Not so much as a bust-up developed behind the scenes as one played out in front of 80,000 fans. During the 2019 League Cup Final between Chelsea and Man City, Kepa went down with an apparent injury late into the game, prompting Maurizio Sarri to turn to Willy Caballero. However, as the substitution went to happen, Kepa refused his manager’s instructions and instead stayed on the field, sparking visible uproar from Sarri, and mass confusion from the Wembley terraces.
The Spaniard saw the rest of the game out between the sticks and went on to save a penalty in the shoutout as his side lost 4-3 from 12 yards, but his reputation took a massive dent following the incident in extra time and he has never really recovered from that, now playing second fiddle to Edouard Mendy.
More recently, Kepa and Antonio Rudiger reportedly had a training ground row on Easter Sunday last year after Chelsea’s shock 5-2 loss to West Brom. The disagreement apparently came about after a late tackle from Rudiger on Kepa, who retaliated before it escalated into a physical confrontation, with the former dismissed from training to cool down. It is said, though, that Rudiger later went on to apologise and there are no suggestions of a lingering animosity between the pair.
More a ‘fall-out’ in good jest that brought about one of the Premier League’s most iconic celebrations. Mourinho was caught on camera during the early part of the 2013/14 season questioning Samuel Eto’o’s real age. He was heard to say: “The problem with Chelsea is we lack a scorer. I have one [Eto’o] but he’s 32. Maybe 35, who knows?”
Eto’o hit back and branded Mourinho a “fool” for his comments, telling africanfootball.com: “Thanks for informing me that it will be my last World Cup. Today, I am 33 years old. And it is not because a fool called me an old man that you must believe it.”
The Cameroonian legend also responded with his iconic ‘hunched old man’ celebration after netting against Tottenham in the 2013/14 season, leaning on one of the corner flags and feeling his back, much to the amusement of Mourinho and his team-mates.
Never a dull moment at Cobham!