Who could replace Lukaku at Chelsea?
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Four years have passed since Chelsea sacked Antonio Conte with a brutal and brief statement after a turbulent second season at Stamford Bridge. But it is only now that the Blues are finally eradicating the last dark memories associated with the Italian’s acrimonious exit.
On June 13 2018, Chelsea finally made public what had become the football world’s worst-kept secret: just over a year after Conte had guided the Blues to their fifth Premier League title, they were parting ways. And all 61 words of their statement spoke to the frosty atmosphere at the club — to which the Italian had a hand in creating.
It read: “Chelsea Football Club and Antonio Conte have parted company. During Antonio’s time at the club, we won our sixth league title and eighth FA Cup. In the title winning season, the club set a then-record 30 wins in a 38-game Premier League season, as well as a club-record 13 consecutive league victories. We wish Antonio every success in his future career.”
Despite winning the FA Cup, finishing outside the top four was not deemed good enough to put up with Conte’s public swipes at the board. Along with a hefty £26m compensation package paid out to the former boss, the west London club were left with players that no longer fit the criteria at Stamford Bridge. Alvaro Morata and David Luiz didn’t hang around for long, while Victor Moses was shipped out on loan again.
For the past four seasons, Chelsea have been reminded of their transfer failures after struggling to offload Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko. £35m flop Drinkwater, who has been released this summer after just 23 appearances, earned £100,000-a-week, while Bakayoko may be sold for just a third of the £40m paid to sign him from Monaco after four seasons out on loan.
The club have paid a high price for knee-jerk decisions in the transfer market, although it is unclear whether they have learned from them. Romelu Lukaku’s future already looks uncertain and the £97.5m striker has not even spent a year at the club in is second spell. Ironically, it was Lukaku — not £60m striker Morata — who Conte wanted to sign in 2017.
“I asked for two players and we were very, very close after we won the league,” Conte told The Telegraph. “One player was Romelu Lukaku, the second player was Virgil van Dijk, and these two players were very, very close. We were in contact every day and I always said that with these two players we would improve my team by 30 per cent.
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“I think maybe we lost the momentum to bring Chelsea at the very top and then to stay for many years. It was a pity that it didn’t happen and Romelu is showing with Inter that my idea was right and also Van Dijk has shown with Liverpool that my idea was right for the club.”
Since then, Chelsea have made gradual steps to bring about a more positive culture at the club, with Thomas Tuchel lauded by the fans and respected by the players. Young stars such as Mason Mount, Reece James and Kai Havertz have proved they can play under different managers, rather than just one.
Some fans will be relieved that the last traces of Conte’s reign that have clouded Chelsea for the past four years appeared to have finally been removed. But now the 54-year-old is at Tottenham and thriving, there will be some understandable cause for concern that his haunting of his former club may not be over just yet.
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