IAN LADYMAN: It’s a tall order but Thomas Tuchel MUST get Romelu Lukaku back onside as Chelsea need their £97.5m record signing fit and firing after his grovelling apology
- Romelu Lukaku said he was not happy at Chelsea and he talked up an Inter return
- The Belgian striker has since issued apology for his interview with Italian TV
- Thomas Tuchel is confident Chelsea will ‘brush off’ incident in the coming weeks
- The Blues re-signed Lukaku for a club record £97.5m from Inter in the summer
- Striker said he was dissatisfied with Tuchel’s tactics in the interview last week
It took Romelu Lukaku just 15 minutes to score on his second Chelsea debut at Arsenal in August.
It was a sunny day, Chelsea were imperious and their returning centre forward looked to be the perfect fit. Finally, the champions of Europe appeared to have a natural No 9.
Less than four months on, Chelsea still have one and we can expect him to be involved against Tottenham in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.
Thomas Tuchel said Romelu Lukaku had apologised and remained committed to Chelsea
But over the course of half an English season, Lukaku’s faith in his ability to succeed in his second spell at Stamford Bridge appears to have waned.
Resurrecting a sense of purpose in his club’s record signing now appears to be coach Thomas Tuchel’s most immediate and crucial challenge.
Tuchel spoke for half an hour on Tuesday about the interview Lukaku gave to Italian TV last week in which he very briefly expressed dissatisfaction with his manager’s tactics.
There are few smarter than Tuchel, and in his intelligent and considered way, he succeeded in closing the door on any suggestion of lingering issues between himself and his player.
The striker re-joined the Blues for a record £97.5 million from Inter Milan in the summer
Tuchel said ‘nothing had changed’ with Lukaku following his explosive interview last week
Nevertheless, this does not entirely remove the problem. Chelsea are incomplete without a true centre forward and Lukaku is their only one. They need the Belgian to be fit and fulfilled.
Chelsea really should not need to adapt to accommodate their £97.5million signing, which means the onus is likely to be on him to find his own way through a season already interrupted by injury and illness.
Regardless of this, the concerns made public last week cannot be allowed to linger. ‘With Romelu it’s not about finding positions,’ said Tuchel as he addressed the issue of his team’s formation. ‘He’s a striker and that’s it. It’s pretty easy.
‘He’s a No 9 and we just put him on. But it’s about adaption. To a different league, a different club, a different team and team-mates. Then came injury and Covid, so we are in a totally normal place now.
Lukaku expressed his unhappiness at Chelsea in a bombshell Sky Italia interview last week
The Belgian said the interview’s sole purpose was about saying goodbye to Inter Milan fans
Lukaku later apologised to Chelsea in a video address the club released on Tuesday night
‘He is willing to learn and adapt and it takes time. He was very strong in the beginning and we are sure he will be a big influence again.
‘Nothing has changed. There was a situation that we have dealt with and may be dealing with for some time. But we brush it off.’
Confidence matters to all footballers but to some more than others.
Lukaku – previously of Everton, Manchester United and Inter Milan – has always registered high on that particular scale. At Old Trafford, in particular, his self-belief disappeared and he departed a relative failure, in need of a restorative spell in the calmer waters of Serie A.
Now the Premier League appears to have got underneath Lukaku’s skin again, and not in a good way.
Last week’s interview was ill-timed but not particularly incendiary and Tuchel recognises this. ‘At no stage did I feel personally attacked,’ said the German.
Tuchel (middle) insisted Chelsea will ‘brush off’ the striker’s incident over the coming weeks
But more than anything, Lukaku’s words seemed to hint at a little insecurity and this could prove just as damaging as anything more sinister.
He has played twice since recovering from Covid prior to Christmas and scored in both games. Tuchel’s team is – intentionally or otherwise – set up for a player such as Lukaku to thrive. On the surface, there should not be a problem. Yet there is.
‘I think it’s impatience,’ added Tuchel. ‘He wants big chances and it is hard for him to accept that sometimes the grass does not grow faster when you pull it.
‘He is emotional. So it’s our job to bring out the best of him, to find the right position, to find the right systems. This is what we do for every single player. It does not change if the player is expensive or is a free agent or is old or young.
Lukaku was dropped for the Liverpool game last Sunday but he could now be in contention to play against Tottenham in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday night
‘So in the end it’s on the player. We can just help him fulfil his potential and this is what we do.’
Lukaku’s current team face one managed by Antonio Conte on Wednesday.
Conte won the Premier League for Chelsea and was Lukaku’s manager in a title- winning season at Inter last year.
Lukaku believes Conte is the best coach he has ever had. An alternative view is that Lukaku thrived simply because Italian football is slower and more forgiving than the wild fields of England, that it enabled him to more easily disguise an occasionally heavy touch.
On Wednesday night Lukaku could face Antonio Conte, who coached him at Inter Milan
Tuchel smiled when reminded of Lukaku’s success under Conte. ‘We cannot just play like Inter played and hope that will bring the best out of him,’ he said.
The problem is indeed not that simple and with Lukaku it may yet prove to be enduringly complicated.
Tuchel says he has coped with bigger issues before, yet the solving of this one could be absolutely fundamental to the success or otherwise of his first full Chelsea season.
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