Football Features

What did Romelu Lukaku say? Why Chelsea’s record signing has been dropped for Liverpool clash

By Harry Edwards

Published: 16:15, 2 January 2022

Romelu Lukaku has been dropped from Chelsea’s squad for their critical Premier League visit of Liverpool on Sunday following his bombshell interview.

Premier League players are often more candid when speaking to media outside of England, away from their clubs’ communications teams.

And in an interview with Sky Italia (said to have been produced three weeks ago), Lukaku revealed he was “not happy” with certain tactical instructions at Chelsea and that we would have stayed at Inter had they offered him a new deal — a club he initially seems to have seen as a stepping stone to either Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.

This, as you can imagine, hasn’t gone down well and Tuchel was asked about his decision to drop Lukaku by Sky Sports before the game, to which he responded: “I decided to protect the preparation of the match, and that’s why he’s out.

“Of course we have spoke. We have spoken twice. I have spoken to the main players, of course, and after that we had to realise that it’s too close to the match. It’s too big.

“We delayed the decision on what to do, and while we are delaying it we have to protect the preparation of the match. We have a big match of football to play, and we need full focus, which is hard to get anyway, even with[out] this decision.

“But it is in my opinion easier if he’s not in the squad, and that’s why we did it.

“For sure it was a difficult decision to take, but in my opinion it was the right decision to take.”

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What did Romelu Lukaku say?

  • On Tuchel: “The head coach has decided to play a different system… I’m not happy with the situation but I’m a grafter and I mustn’t let up.”
  • On leaving Inter: “I don’t think I should have left Inter the way I did. I love Inter and I’ll play for them again… not at the end of my career but when I’m still at a good enough level to win more trophies.”
  • On Chelsea: “The fact that I hadn’t won anything in England in eight years there bothered me a lot. So it was hard to turn down the chance to come back [to Chelsea] with the team I have supported since I was a child.”
  • On Man City: “At the end of the first year at Inter, I turned down an offer from Manchester City which was higher than Chelsea’s this summer […] because it wasn’t the right time to leave.”
  • On whether he’d like Lautaro Martinez to join him at Chelsea: “No… Lautaro, you can stay in Milan. I’ll be back there (he said, jokingly). I miss Lautaro Martinez, I could die on the pitch for him since day one I met him.”
  • On his career goals: “There are three absolute top teams in football: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich… So I thought if I ever had that possibility, I would sign a new contract with Inter and then go there.”

It was around 6pm UK time on Thursday that the quotes in question first surfaced on social media.

The timing seemed strange; Lukaku had scored two goals in his past two Chelsea games since having returned to the team.

“Physically I am fine. But I’m NOT happy with the situation at Chelsea,” Lukaku was quoted in a tweet by Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano.

“Tuchel has chosen to play with another system – I won’t give up, I’ll be professional. I am not happy with the situation but I am professional – and I can’t give up now.”

The comment struck some Chelsea fans as disrespectful. But a later translation conveys a different, less damning, tone.

“I’m not happy with the situation and that’s only natural,” it seems Lukaku had actually said, as translated by Patrick Kendrick (an EU-accredited conference interpreter).

“The head coach has decided to play a different system and I mustn’t let up. I need to keep working hard and be professional.”

The interview, it has since been explained, was arranged as Lukaku’s chance to apologise to Inter Milan fans for the manner of his summer departure.

“I want to really apologise to the Inter fans because I don’t think I should have left Inter the way I did,” Lukaku told Sky.

“I should have spoken to you guys first, especially after everything you did for me, for my family, my mum, my son. I’ll never forget that.”

Lukaku will be 29 this May and his current contract expires in 2026, but here he spoke about life after Chelsea: “I always said that I love Inter and I’ll play for them again. I really hope so. I fell in love with Italy.

“I hope from the bottom of my heart to go back to Inter and not at the end of my career but when I’m still at a good enough level to win more trophies.”

The subject of football’s “three absolute teams” led Lukaku onto even more awkward ground.

He said: “In my opinion, there are three absolute top teams in football – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Every player dreams of playing for one of these teams one day. So I thought if I ever had that possibility, I would sign a new contract with Inter and then go there.

“I wasn’t thinking about going [to Chelsea], but at one point they came in for me and so I asked [Inter boss Simone] Inzaghi to leave.

“The fact that they didn’t try to make me sign a new contract bothered me a bit. It hurt me even. If Inter offered me a new contract, I would have stayed 100 per cent. That goes without saying.”

Cue more outrage, but what some may consider a slap in the face for Chelsea fans could also be described as refreshing honesty. Lukaku did emphasise his strong emotional bond to his boyhood club, too.

He added: “But [a new Inter deal] didn’t happen, so I told myself that there is only one team where I could possibly see myself: Chelsea.

“Also the fact that I hadn’t won anything in England in eight years there bothered me a lot.

“So it was hard to turn down the chance to come back here with the team I have supported since I was a child.”

How have Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea reacted behind the scenes?

The timing was helpful in one sense: Chelsea had an opportunity to respond within 24 hours as Tuchel’s pre-Liverpool press conference took place the following morning.

Lukaku’s head coach didn’t like the unnecessary “noise” created by the Sky Italia interview but acknowledged how words can be exaggerated or taken out of context.

“We don’t want to make more out of it than it actually is,” he told reporters.

“You know very well how it is, it’s very easy to take lines out of context, to shorten lines to make headlines, then realise later it’s not so bad or what he meant.

“But let’s be honest, we don’t like it, because it’s noise we don’t need. We need a calm environment and focus and it does not help.”

Tuchel said the matter would be discussed behind closed doors but his comments came before the second half of the interview aired.

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How have Chelsea fans reacted?

Chelsea fans will have endured a 24-hour emotional rollercoaster, enduring the immediate blow of the initial quotes followed by later translations suggesting the matter was not so serious, only to be confronted by Friday’s praise for Barcelona and Lukaku’s hope of a future Inter return.

Some managed to stay level-headed…

And some looked to humour…

What about Inter?

Lukaku’s overarching goal was to patch things up with his former club’s fanbase, but it appears Inter ultras haven’t accepted his apology.

“The ones who run away in the rain don’t matter,” reads the banner in the image below.

“The ones who stay during the storm matter. Ciao Romelu.”

How has Lukaku fared since his £90m Chelsea move?

The timing of this story will be all the more bitter for many Chelsea fans because Lukaku has just started to hit form.

After a fine start in which he scored four times in his first four games across all competitions, Lukaku suffered a 10-match goal drought. That run was aggravated by an injury from which he was slow to return to the first-team fold, with Tuchel managing his game time to avoid re-injury.

Lukaku made his return from the bench in Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Aston Villa, where he proved to be the game-changer. After scoring an excellent header to put Chelsea 2-1 up, Lukaku then won the late penalty with a surging run from just inside the Villa half, holding off one defender before eventually being scythed down by Ezri Konsa.

Next, Lukaku marked his first Premier League start since October by scoring the opener and what appeared to be the winner in Chelsea’s home game with Brighton, only to see it cancelled out late on by a Danny Welbeck strike.

In those 135 minutes, Lukaku showed Chelsea what they had been missing in his absence. The Belgian was a great focal point for the Blues further up the pitch, someone who they could play the ball long to and know he’d be able to hold it up. Of course, that’s not all that he’s good for, but it helps relieve pressure to have someone with that capability playing.

Lukaku’s return also equips Chelsea with a dangerous presence in the box, as demonstrated by their win over Aston Villa. In the first half, the Villa centre-backs had a fairly easy ride against Christian Pulisic as the False No.9 (no disrespect to the American — he’s just not a centre-forward). But when Lukaku came on at half-time that all changes, and Tyrone Mings in particular struggled.

As some have pointed out, Chelsea have relied upon Lukaku to avoid two defeats in recent games, but they will be without his services against Liverpool.