Romelu Lukaku Q&A: Chelsea FC signing on his Stamford Bridge comeback, title ambitions, Conte, Tuchel and more

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·9-min read
Romelu Lukaku Q&A: Chelsea FC signing on his Stamford Bridge comeback, title ambitions, Conte, Tuchel and more
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Two themes emerge from Romelu Lukaku’s first address upon his return to English football.

First: the Belgium international has nothing to prove at Chelsea.

Second: He is a very different player to the one who endured such a disappointing final season at Manchester United.

Without doubt, the 28-year-old has gone on to establish himself as one of the finest strikers in world football since departing Old Trafford. But for all his success at Inter Milan – winning the Serie A title last season – and with Belgium, where he is his country’s all-time leading goal-scorer, he is a player who is still greeted with a certain degree of scepticism on these shores, if not further afield.

Lukaku’s record of 64 goals in 95 appearances for Inter places him in the bracket of Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland as the one of the elite centre forwards in the sport. Yet doubts remain about his ability at the highest level, the different dimensions to his game and whether he can handle the pressure of leading the line at Chelsea after falling out of favour at United.

There are no such doubts, it should be said, as far as Thomas Tuchel is concerned. He is convinced Lukaku will provide the final piece of the jigsaw when it comes to Chelsea’s Premier League title challenge – just as Antonio Conte believed he would be at Inter when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had deemed him surplus to requirements at United.

Such was the degree to which Lukaku’s stock had fallen – despite scoring 42 goals in 77 starts in his time at Old Trafford – that United could not even recoup the £75million they paid Everton for him in 2017.

Yet two years later, Chelsea had to pay a club-record £97.5m to bring him back to Stamford Bridge, where he had been an academy prospect dubbed “Baby Drogba.”

It was always his dream to emulate his idol – and now he gets the chance, insisting he will justify his enormous fee and add a new dimension to the Champions League winners.

Lukaku said: “For me it’s the right move for me for the rest of my career because, with a lot of maturity and experience, you come back as a player that can hopefully add something to the team.

“I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I am a self-motivator and always have been.

“I’m a Chelsea player and happy to be here now. I have experienced success elsewhere and also a different playing style where its more technical-based and tactical.

“The Premier League has a bit of everything and the experiences I had a few years ago were great. I loved every minute of it on and off the field, but the experiences in Italy made me more complete as a player.

“Now it’s just about what I have learned in Italy. Watching the Premier League over the last few years, the players have got better, the teams have got better and I am ready for the challenge.”

Did you have to leave the PL to be the player you are?

“I think I had to. It was also a big part of my plan to try to experience different leagues.

“I experienced Serie A which was a league I always wanted to play in at one point in my career. I did that.

“Going there you deal with a different kind of pressure and in a different way. It was good.

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

“Maturity-wise it was knowing what it takes to win and the circumstances in which you need to do that. Obviously, I had Antonio Conte there as a manager who really helped me and showed me what it took to win and we did it in the second season.

“As a player it’s a totally different game. Very, very tactical. Tight spaces and in most of the games you only get one chance and if you don’t score it gets very difficult. So efficiency-wise that was very important and I also learnt to play more with my back to goal and other technical aspects of the game which are really important. So it was a good experience.”

What did you learn about yourself in Italy and how did Conte show you to be a winner?

“To learn how to win is basically pushing the barrier. Every trainer has a different way of coaching, but with Antonio we really learnt how to go to the red zone. That was it.

“In the second season we were much more consistent in winning big games. That made the difference against big opponents. As a player the Italian game is so different. It’s so tactical and technical. You have to make the right run or movement to get another player free.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

“We always had a lot of possession, so we were playing in the opposite half. Most of the time you were back to goal and everything was going through me.

“I remember having a conversation with Conte about this and he told me if I wasn’t good at that I wouldn’t play. For me that was an eye-opener. Once I mastered that aspect then for me everything became easier. The game would slow down and I could control the game more and give more assists. That was really something I wanted to do and I wanted to experience that in another country, where I think it would be beneficial for the rest of my career.”

Do you see similarities between Conte and Tuchel?

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

“I don’t like to compare. I will never compare. This is a new experience, but from the conversations we had what I like about him is every game there is a different game plan. Training sessions are always with a goal to try and prepare the team for the game at the weekend, and that’s what I love about him.

“That’s something that I told him in the first conversation I had with him.

“I said: ‘Look, I try to figure out what you try and do with the team but I never figured it out because every game was different.’

“That’s what I like because I look at the game from a tactical point of view, I don’t really look at the game just to watch. I try to know what the team is doing, and that’s what really intrigued me to come and play for him. Because is a manager that is tactically very, very strong.

“But also the players that he has at his disposal which, for me, is something where I would have loved to play with those players. Now to be here it is up to us now to try to get to know each other and deliver good performances at the weekend.”

No matter what you do, question marks remain around you and you get boxed into being a target man?

“The perception is something that, at the end of the day, you know, you get to point that you just don’t fight against it.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“Really that is something that I thought to myself when I went to Italy, that I’m part of this zone where people see me as a certain type of player that I’m not. I am much more than what people want to see.

“I think going to Italy basically showed the world what I can do along with me playing with the national team of Belgium. Being with my back against the wall is something that I experienced since my youngest age so it’s nothing new to me.

“It is what it is, I accept it. I do my work in training and on the pitch, whatever people are saying, let them talk. They have a perception. They don’t know me or the work of my performances. You do want your respect, but you don’t want to keep fighting for it because you’re going to lose unnecessary energy. I’m not really about that.”

What is more important – records or trophies?

“It’s not about records. It’s about winning trophies. I’ve realised how different people’s attitude is towards you when you win something. That’s something that I’ve learned.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“In conversations I had with Didier Drogba or John Terry or Antonio Conte, the respect I have is different when you start winning. That was something I really wanted.

“I wanted to win so bad. I went to Inter and then we did. That’s the only thing that matters to me - winning.

“Scoring goals, yes, that’s beautiful. I know I am in a position where I can score a lot of goals. But winning trophies, that sets you apart.”

Did you know you’d be back or feel like a failure when you left?

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“I was there without being there. I was one of the young players and those experiences were very beneficial for the rest of my career.

“I was young and I don’t think I was as evolved as I am now. My journey has had a lot of ups and downs but at the end of the day if you keep performing you know that you will always get a chance.

“My relationship with the club has always been great and now to be back at the perfect time is a good feeling.”

Do you think you are the final piece of the jigsaw for Chelsea’s title challenge?

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

“You are talking about the European champions. If you win the Champions League you have a very good team.

“The coach wanted something different to add to the team than what he’s got. I think I’m different to all the players that he has. But you have to put some respect on this team. This team won the Champions League. That is the biggest trophy in European football so if you win the Champions League that doesn’t mean you are a bad team.

“They did it how they did it and credit to them. I’m coming and I will make myself available for the manager and hopefully we can work together and keep performing like we should.”

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