Chelsea vs Tottenham: Lukaku’s relationship with returning Conte adds to spotlight on Tuchel

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·4-min read
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Lukaku’s relationship with returning Conte adds to spotlight on Tuchel
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  • Chelsea
    Chelsea
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Antonio Conte
    Antonio Conte
    Italian association football player and manager
  • Romelu Lukaku
    Romelu Lukaku
    Belgian association football player
  • Thomas Tuchel
    German association football manager and former player

In a different set of circumstances, the return of a celebrated former manager to Stamford Bridge might have provided a welcome distraction from the Romelu Lukaku saga, but Antonio Conte’s reunion with Chelsea will only shine a light on the striker’s situation.

Lukaku is back in the Chelsea squad for tonight’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Conte’s Tottenham, having last night apologised to supporters and accepted a fine from the club for an unsanctioned and explosive interview.

As Conte returns to Chelsea, Lukaku’s comments to Sky Italia, expressing frustration at his bit-part role and Thomas Tuchel’s tactics, have further highlighted his success under Conte at Inter Milan.

Tuchel has insisted his relationship with Lukaku is unchanged and put the player’s comments down to “impatience” at his stop-start return to England, but plainly the German is yet to build the same understanding with Lukaku as Conte.

The pair won Serie A together last season and Lukaku has credited Conte with taking his game up a level, saying they will share a lifelong bond.

A relaxed Tuchel, who has dealt with the situation with impressive calm and clarity, yesterday faced questions over whether there was anything he could learn from Conte’s management of Lukaku in Italy, which now feels like a benchmark of sorts.

“We cannot just play like Inter played and hope that will bring the best out of Romelu,” said Tuchel, insisting Lukaku had to adapt to his new surroundings like any other player.

More positively for Tuchel, the saga has also demonstrated that he enjoys the full trust of Chelsea’s hierarchy and squad, in stark contrast to Conte’s time at the club.

Tuchel’s decision to drop the club’s £97.5million signing from the squad for the 2-2 draw with Liverpool on Sunday came with the full backing of Petr Cech and Marina Granovskaia — and, by extension, Roman Abramovich — while the dressing room was also united behind their head coach.

“[The backing of the club] is the most important thing,” added Tuchel. “It was very nice to see that we have an open and very close relationship and that we can find very quick solutions without any political interference. Petr, Marina and me, very calm, very quick and very open, so easy to deal with it.”

Romelu Lukaku and Antonio Conte reunite as the Italian returns to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup (AFP via Getty Images)
Romelu Lukaku and Antonio Conte reunite as the Italian returns to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup (AFP via Getty Images)

Conte felt he never enjoyed full support from upstairs at Chelsea, but Tuchel’s experience suggests the club is now more united, with less internal politics and fewer dressing-room egos.

Lukaku will not be the only striker on the road to redemption tonight and another outcome of the saga has been the stirring up of Harry Kane’s situation.

There are obvious comparisons between Lukaku’s unsanctioned interview and Kane’s frank discussion with Gary Neville on the Overlap Podcast in May, in which he appeared to lay the foundations for a summer push to leave Spurs by admitting his career was at a crossroads.

Kane’s interview did not impress Spurs and his attempts to force his way out of the club in the summer came to feel like a battle of wills between the England captain and chairman Daniel Levy — with only one likely winner.

Conte, who first interviewed for the Spurs job over the summer, watched the situation with interest and one wonders if he would have been so inclined to accept the role in November if the England captain had got his way.

Conte won the FA Cup and Premier League as Chelsea boss before being sacked in 2018 (Getty Images)
Conte won the FA Cup and Premier League as Chelsea boss before being sacked in 2018 (Getty Images)

“The club decided to keep Harry in the team and I think it was a great choice by the owner [Levy],” Conte said. “In this way you are showing you want to try to continue to build something important around one of the best players in your team.”

Conte admitted, though, that he could understand Kane’s frustration at Spurs’ failure to win any silverware for 14 years and, although the forward is back onside with the club since the Italian’s appointment, it feels like a fragile truce.

Kane will not remain settled if Spurs do not continue to progress under Conte and soon return to a place of challenging for honours again, adding another subplot to the semi-final with Chelsea.

Conte has called for patience in rebuilding Spurs, but clearly the 52-year-old, who has won five titles in his last seven seasons as a coach, offers a clear road to success.

But his acrimonious divorce from Chelsea, which cost the club more than £26m, should serve as a warning to Spurs and Levy of the potential consequences of failing to back him, and Conte appeared to give his bosses a nudge ahead of tonight’s game.

“I think that for Tottenham to bring me here, [the club] wanted to send a signal [to the] outside,” Conte said. “And maybe also to our players. And now we’ll see what happens, because after taking [on] the coach that is used to winning, then you have to do.”

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