Thomas Tuchel has been put in between a rock and a hard place.
In the build-up to the biggest game of Chelsea’s season so far, club-record signing Romelu Lukaku was found to have conducted a secret interview in which he aired his frustrations towards the club while simultaneously confessing his undying love for Inter.
Lukaku also admitted that he expected to go to a ‘top team’ like Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich, before eventually focusing on Chelsea when those teams didn’t come in for him.
It’s now accepted that Lukaku didn’t mean much harm in the interview, and nobody is really doubting his love for Chelsea – he grew up supporting the club and always wanted to be a success at Stamford Bridge – but you just can’t do that.
Tuchel has now been left with the unenviable job of figuring out what to do about Lukaku, and he has opted to bench the superstar striker for the Liverpool game.
Understandably, that has divided opinion. Tuchel’s job is to win matches and Premier League titles, and somebody like Lukaku would obviously help that cause when Liverpool are in the way. That’s why Tuchel bought him in the first place.
However, you can’t excuse Lukaku’s behaviour just because he’s a club-record signing or an elite striker or whatever. Everyone on the books at Stamford Bridge is expected to act in a certain way, and Lukaku has fallen short of those standards.
You can’t hide interviews from the club, and even if you’re not trying to insult Chelsea, you can’t discuss potential issues at this point. Lukaku needed to act professionally and voice his support towards the team and Tuchel, not point fingers.
If this was a fringe player – say Saul Niguez came out and suggested that Tuchel was to blame for his poor start at the club – he’d be fined and dropped, and supporters would approve of that. Tuchel had to do the same for Lukaku here.
Tuchel won’t have taken this decision lightly. Neither Timo Werner or Kai Havertz are fit enough to replace him just yet and the Christian Pulisic-at-striker experiment has flopped. He wants Lukaku in his squad at all times.
However, what Tuchel also wants is professional decency from all his players.
It’s almost a carbon copy of the dispute between Mikel Arteta and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal. Arteta got fed up of his striker’s disciplinary issues, decided nobody is bigger than the club and banished Aubameyang from his squad.
Aubameyang was granted permission to temporarily leave the squad, with Arteta acknowledging that the Gabon international is a human first, footballer second, but that respect has to be shown both ways.
Whether Chelsea would have granted Lukaku permission to speak about Inter in an interview is unknown, but to not even ask the club shows a blasé attitude that is bordering on disrespect. He can’t have thought that what he was doing was right.
You can only hope that Lukaku has apologised for his actions and ended this whole thing. If he has, Tuchel should welcome him back into the team with open arms and allow him to rebuild his relationship with supporters. This doesn’t need to be blown out of proportion.
Tuchel has set the bar against which he will measure his players. It doesn’t matter who you are, you must act professionally and respectfully.
Now, the boss will hope to move on as soon as possible. There’s a title race to keep up with, after all.