Graeme Souness says Romelu Lukaku must apologise to his team-mates after comments he made in an interview led to Thomas Tuchel dropping the striker from Chelsea’s squad for their huge Super Sunday clash with Liverpool.
In an interview with Sky Italy, recorded a few weeks ago but aired this week, Lukaku – who has only just returned to the starting line-up after injury and Covid – said he was unhappy with his role at the club and would like to return to Inter Milan in the near future.
Sky Sports pundit Souness described Lukaku’s decision to say those things as “ridiculous and damaging” and backed boss Thomas Tuchel for leaving out the £97.5m forward, despite the enormity of the game, which could end Chelsea’s hopes in the Premier League title race.
“You’re trying to understand how a player has got to a stage where he’s come out with such a ridiculous and damaging statement,” said Souness.
“We’ve all played with players who need to be training every day and playing every week to get the best out of them. Lukaku is a powerful man, and he’s been used sparingly by the manager.
“He’s physically big and strong and has to be playing games all the time to be scoring goals. Wayne Rooney, I imagine, had to be like that to get the very best out of him. [Lukaku] was frustrated at not coming back and going straight into the team and has come up with the nonsense he’s said.
“It was totally disrespectful. He’s 29 years old not 19 and he should know better. This damages the football club enormously. It’s like walking into a dressing room and telling the other guys, ‘I don’t want to be with you anymore’.
“It damages the manager, and he should say, ‘If you don’t fancy it here, there’s the door. On you go’. The first thing I’d do if I was Thomas Tuchel is I’d tell Lukaku that he needs to apologise. He needs to stand in front of everyone in the dressing room and apologise unreservedly.
“If he’s not prepared to come to me as the manager, I’d come to him and have an honest conversation over whether he really meant it or whether it was a mistake. If he’s not apologised, then he’s done the right thing [in leaving him out].
“Tuchel has put a marker down and Lukaku has more than crossed the line. He has to apologise to his team-mates. It was so offside, it beggars belief.”
Carragher: Lukaku has done this at every club he’s been at
Fellow pundit Jamie Carragher agreed that Lukaku’s comments came from a dented ego, with the striker frustrated at not immediately coming back into Chelsea’s starting XI after his lay-off.
However, Carragher says Lukaku falling out with people at clubs is becoming a recurring problem.
“The problem I have with it is Lukaku has done this at every club he’s been at,” said Carragher. “He’s not shy in doing an interview and dropping a few hints about him not being 100 per cent happy.
“He’s had a lot of clubs already throughout his career. This is a guy who scores a lot of goals at every club he’s been at. And he still doesn’t leave on the greatest of terms. That’s always a slight problem: the interviews he gives.
“He’s trying to curry favour with the Inter Milan fans because he’s got a lot of criticism from them.
“He’s come in as the guy who can take this team to the title. This is what [Chelsea are] lacking, a really great centre forward. And he started the season really well. He then got injured and Chelsea actually, in terms of the level of football they were playing it was slightly higher, and the team scored more goals when Lukaku was out.
“The fact he didn’t go straight back into the team was a problem for him. But Tuchel is the manager of a group of players who were all very expensive, not just Lukaku. Don’t forget Kai Havertz, who maybe takes his place as a false nine – he scored the winner in a European Cup final last season. He cost £75m himself.
“There’s a lot of big players at Chelsea. But he’s thought ‘I’m the main man at Chelsea’ and it hasn’t quite materialised with the way he’s come back from injury.”
Tuchel backed in player power battle
The move to drop Lukaku against Liverpool is a bold one with so much on the line and could prove costly for Tuchel if it leads to Chelsea falling away from the title race.
But Carragher says that, despite Chelsea’s history of changing managers frequently, Tuchel may actually be in a stronger position than some of his predecessors given his calibre and the alternatives currently available – and that the club may back him over Lukaku in the long run.
“I admire what Mikel Arteta has done with Aubameyang and in some ways I admire what Thomas Tuchel has done here,” he said.
“In the past [at Chelsea] the players have always won against the manager. Right now, I think in terms of top managers in world football, I’d say there’s a dearth of them.
“We’ve got three in the Premier League – Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Tuchel. But look at the problems Man Utd are having right now in terms of their managerial situation. They still don’t know who they’re going to get at the end of the season or who is out there who can compete with these three.
“Right now, for Chelsea, even though they’ve had great success changing managers over the last 10-15 years, I actually think it may be easier to replace Lukaku than the manager they’ve got. They’ve got a top-class manager right now.”
The best thing Lukaku can do is not give interviews anymore because it’s just bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad.
Former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was also very critical of Lukaku’s behaviour and reckons Tuchel’s firm line with the player is as much about showing the world Tuchel’s own principles as it is about the situation at Chelsea.
“Tuchel is making this decision for him [Tuchel],” said Hasselbaink. “Forget about Chelsea: this is how he manages.
“He can get the sack from Chelsea but this is about Thomas Tuchel. ‘These are my principles, this is how I want my players to behave and I give them rope and freedom and there’s some stuff I will accept and some not. I’m not accepting this’.
“The best thing Lukaku can do is not give interviews anymore because it’s just bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad. I like Romelu. I think he’s a magnificent player. When he’s playing he gives Chelsea a different dimension. But what he has said and how he has said it, I don’t understand that.
“It’s fine having frustration you’re not playing. And how you react with that is coming into the Aston Villa game and making the difference.
“To spit your dummy out after four matches and say you want to go back to Inter because they have sorted you out when you came from Man Utd… If you really wanted to stay at Inter, say ‘I’m not going to Chelsea, give me half my wages and I’ll stay’. Because we all know he had to leave Inter because they were in financial trouble. That doesn’t happen does it?
“But you’re here now and what he’s done is really disrespectful.”