Romelu Lukaku says he turned down a move to Manchester City in 2020, and only decided to swap Inter Milan for Chelsea when his request for a new contract in Italy was rejected this summer.
In a 29-minute interview with Sky in Italy recorded earlier in December, Lukaku said he was “not happy” with his situation at Chelsea, questioning Thomas Tuchel’s system and talking up the prospect of returning to Inter while he is still playing at a “good enough level”.
Tuchel conceded the comments are “not helpful” as they “bring noise that we don’t need”, but claimed the striker looks far from unsettled at Chelsea.
In a second part of the interview released on Friday, Lukaku said he decided to stay in Italy last summer and would “100 per cent” still be there if the club granted him his wish of a new deal in the summer.
“When I was at Inter, at the end of the first year, I turned down an offer from Manchester City which was higher than Chelsea’s this summer,” Lukaku said.
“I did it because it had only been a year, it wasn’t the right time to leave and I didn’t want to. I wanted to do something good for Inter, because I have to say that Inter saved my career to some extent.
“I was in a deep hole at Manchester United, things weren’t going well. I was a big investment for Inter but we did great things together.
“So the second year after we won the Scudetto, I went to speak with club chiefs and asked for a new contract. I did it because I told myself I’m 28 years old, my family feels great in Milan, I still have my flat there, my mother and my son could come and live there and we would all feel comfortable.
“But they didn’t want to extend my contract, the possibility wasn’t there. It was tough for me to accept, because in my head I told myself that I would be able to do a few more years in Milan.”
“In my opinion, there are three absolute top teams in football – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Every player dreams of playing for one of these teams one day. So I thought if I ever had that possibility, I would sign a new contract with Inter and then go there.
“But it didn’t happen, so I told myself that there is only one team where I could possibly see myself – Chelsea. I wasn’t thinking about going there, but at one point they came in for me and so I asked [Inter boss Simone] Inzaghi to leave.
“The fact that they didn’t try to make me sign a new contract bothered me a bit, it hurt me even. If Inter offered me a new contract, I would have stayed 100 per cent. That goes without saying.
“Also the fact that I hadn’t won anything in England in eight years there bothered me a lot. So it was hard to turn down the chance to come back here with the team I have supported since I was a child.”
‘Conte was my mentor, now a rival’
Lukaku has been vocal about his relationship with Antonio Conte and repeatedly stated how the Italian tactician helped him develop as a player
Now they are both in London, Lukaku says the motivation of proving himself to his former boss provides him with fresh motivation to succeed in England.
“I speak regularly with Conte, not just about football but life in general,” Lukaku said.
“It hurt me when he left Inter, it was one of the toughest moments for me but I didn’t leave because of him. I knew that we could still win things at Inter with Inzaghi.
“I think Conte at Spurs could do what he did at Inter in Serie A. But he also knows that our Chelsea team is really strong. I see him as an opponent in the league, I never won against him so that’s an extra motivation for me.
“He was a massive influence on my career, he helped me so much on a mental level, he taught me how to be a professional and how to make sacrifices on and off the pitch to be ready for any challenge.”
‘Tuchel trying to find the right system’
In the second segment of the interview, Lukaku also expanded on his comments released on Thursday where he vented his frustration at his lack of game time up until early December.
The 28-year-old said Tuchel is trying to work him into the Chelsea starting line-up and conceded he needs to be patient to grasp his chance to cement his spot in the team.
“I think I’m in a moment where the boss could play me a little more but I have to respect his decisions, continue to work and wait for my time to come,” he said.
“We’re trying to find a middle ground where we can meet, a system which can help the team perform at its best because right now we’re in a complicated situation.
“The boss made a choice, I have to keep working and at some point we will talk with Tuchel and see how it’s going.”
Analysis: Which change is Lukaku referring to?
Sky Sports’ Gerard Brand
Lukaku’s main gripe seems to be with a “different formation”, but it’s difficult to see which change the Belgian is referring to. When Lukaku joined Chelsea, Tuchel was immediately asked what this would mean for the 3-4-2-1 system that helped them back into the top four and to Champions League glory.
Tuchel said in August: “We now have the chance also to play with two strikers, like they did at Inter with [Lukaku], or to continue with three strikers. We will see now how this works out.”
Was Lukaku promised a consistent strike partner in Timo Werner, someone to drop deep and do the dirty work while he worked the key areas in the penalty area and on the shoulder of the defender? For Inter, Lukaku had Lautaro Martinez or Alexis Sanchez beside him for practically the entire season, but for Chelsea that partnership role is unclear.
Lukaku and Werner have started only five times together this season, and only twice as a traditional front two. In the first of those two games, Lukaku and Werner were isolated in a 1-0 home defeat by Manchester City, and in the second they barely escaped Brentford with a 1-0 victory. Elsewhere, in Lukaku’s absence, Werner has been given opportunities to find form, but hasn’t grasped it, and Tuchel has more than often opted for a front three.
After returning from injury in late November, Lukaku was given only chunks of minutes – eight against Man Utd, 21 against Watford, 45 against West Ham and three against Leeds – opting to play a false nine in Kai Havertz on several occasions.
Tuchel will of course claim he has been protecting his £90m signing on his return from injury, but like any player, Lukaku wants to be on the pitch as much as possible. He said after the win at Villa on Boxing Day: “I think I needed a performance like this today, it has been difficult as every player wants to play. The manager has his reasons but I kept working hard.”