Romelu Lukaku’s brutal decision on Chelsea transfer will force new owners to make a decisive change

Think back to August, when the sparkling light of London shone on Stamford Bridge for an open training session. Romelu Lukaku was pictured holding his new Chelsea shirt with the backdrop of the West Stand behind him. The Belgian had a broad smile, and there was as much enthusiasm for his signing and the heights that his goalscoring influence could bring to Thomas Tuchel’s previously lavish attack.

“I just feel more complete.” Lukaku proclaimed in his first interview with Chelsea TV. “I tried to master all the facets that a striker needs, and I just want to keep improving the little details all the time and keep improving my strengths as well.

“I just want to try to help the team win and be available for the manager as well as my teammates. I want to make sure they feel comfortable and can lean on me in any situation we find ourselves in.”

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The overall narrative was overly polished. Lukaku was signed by Chelsea in 2011 from Anderlecht but struggled to make his mark at the club he grew up with. A cruel setback in missing the decisive kick against Bayern Munich in the 2013 Super Cup proved to be his last move for the club, sold to Everton a year later after a successful loan spell.

Then to Manchester and Milan, where he developed and grew, earning even more admiration and respect. The third act of his career in west London to claim the place he had always dreamed of was poetic. How could this go wrong?

Although Chelsea were reigning European champions before the club broke their transfer record to re-sign the Belgian, the fact that Jorginho was the league’s top scorer (all on penalties) with seven la previous season signaled the need for improvement.

A goal 15 minutes into his debut against Arsenal was emphatic and an early sign that Lukaku’s new role in Tuchel’s growing attack would be transformative. Seven months and a Sky Italia interview later, the mood is completely different.

Although Lukaku netted his 12th goal of the season at The Riverside last weekend as Chelsea progressed to the FA Cup semi-final, his involvement in that game actually did more to signal where the striker from £97m now finds himself in the pecking order.

Romelu Lukaku has found himself on the bench in recent weeks behind Kai Havertz.

© (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)
Romelu Lukaku has found himself on the bench in recent weeks behind Kai Havertz.

Lukaku, touted as the goal savior of Chelsea’s attacking problems after Diego Costa, now finds himself firmly behind in-form Kai Havertz. Thomas Tuchel has returned to the staff that won him the Champions League last spring, replacing a clumsy attack by centrally placed Lukaku with the more appropriate fluidity of Havertz.

The positive effects were undeniable. Chelsea have won their last six games, with Havertz starting four of six, with both Lukaku starting being in the FA Cup against Championship opposition. The German has scored four league goals in his last three appearances, already bettering his entire tally from last season.

When Chelsea return to action against Brentford after this international break, it’s hard to see Lukaku returning to Tuchel’s favorite formation. This sentence would have seemed unfathomable after this dominant display in the Emirates in August.

As Chelsea fans wait to find out who their next owner will be, this summer’s transfer window clearly poses a serious question about Lukaku’s future. He wasn’t meant to be just a rotational figure, a stand-in for the main event. His difficulties in adapting to Tuchel’s system put the club in a delicate position.

It’s hard to see a scenario where anyone across Europe would be willing to cough up anything close to the £97million fee paid by Chelsea. This adds to all the uncertainty over how Chelsea will now approach transfer job Roman Abramovich.

But in persisting with Lukaku, the problem remains that his profile which has thrived in counter-attack scenarios is not suited to Tuchel’s more controlled possession. Also compensating for his lack of pressing, which Tuchel insists on his attacking players.

Would Tuchel revolutionize his whole system to suit a single player? The answer is emphatically no, in his own words and recent actions to play Havertz. “It’s a team sport, so it’s not about ten players serving one player,” Tuchel said referring to Lukaku’s problems in January.

“It’s not Chelsea, and it’s not football. Every player serving the team is the highest principle, and that will never change.”

How the new ownership approaches this delicate situation could be final. If we assume that players of Lukaku’s profile and price won’t be a priority while Tuchel is in the dugout, then Lukaku’s exit might be the only option.

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