THOMAS TUCHEL INTERVIEW: Chelsea boss took Lukaku's exit 'personally'

THOMAS TUCHEL INTERVIEW: Chelsea’s boss speaks on stepping up to take charge of transfers, sanctions and new owners, taking Romelu Lukaku’s exit ‘personally’ and why he wanted ‘horrible’ Raheem Sterling

  • It has been a crazy few months at Chelsea amid the club’s ownership saga
  • With Todd Boehly’s takeover now complete, there has been plenty of change
  • Marina Granovskaia, Petr Cech, Bruce Buck and key players have all departed
  • That includes flop Romelu Lukaku, just a year after his £97.5m return to the club
  • But Raheem Sterling’s arrival should kickstart a busy summer of transfer activity
  • Sportsmail‘s MIKE KEEGAN catches up with Blues boss Thomas Tuchel in LA 

For the residents of a Middlesbrough hotel, it may well have been a surreal sight. 

A lobby full of people in blue tracksuits with nowhere to go, passing the time playing cards because one of the biggest football clubs in the world could not afford to pay for their rooms for an extra day. 

Such was life for Thomas Tuchel and his Chelsea staff following the pre-sale sanctions imposed by the government in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Roman Abramovich’s ownership. 

‘We didn’t know how we will arrive in a Champions League game, whether you have a plane or don’t have a plane,’ the German recalls of what he now describes as ‘crazy moments’. 

Thomas Tuchel admits preparations for their FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough were far from ideal

‘Or after you play Newcastle, a long trip, and you don’t know if you need to travel by a bus or plane. We played one match, the FA Cup game at Middlesbrough, where we went up the day before but the rooms were only available until 12 o’clock the following day with our whole staff just sitting in the lobby because only the players and myself had our rooms longer. 

‘It was a very strange situation for a club used to a kind of level and organisation and support that’s absolutely outstanding normally.’ 

Tuchel attempted to turn the negative into a positive. ‘It was absolutely nice to see that we can adapt,’ he says. ‘We are spoiled but not so spoiled that everyone gets in a bad mood. We’d play cards or watch a match live together and it was nice to see everyone was ready to adapt and do the best.’ 

Things are different now. We are speaking in a grand meeting room at the plush, historic Beverly Wilshere, where the club are relaxing on the first leg of their US tour that takes them to Los Angeles, Charlotte and Orlando. 

Its Tuscan stone walls and marble floors have welcomed presidents and celebrities (a statue of Marilyn Monroe stands outside the main entrance). John Lennon shacked up here following a split from Yoko Ono. Elvis Presley was a regular. 

Things are different now, with Chelsea in glamorous surroundings on their US pre-season tour

While nobody has the heartbreak of being booted out of their rooms at this hotel the focus is now on making sure things get all shook up. Since the arrival of LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and his associates at the end of May, change has been in the air.

Out have gone player trader Marina Granovskaia, Tuchel confidante Petr Cech and chairman Bruce Buck, along with a number of key players. 

The result is that Chelsea are now playing catch-up and that the 48-year-old, who sees himself as a pure coach, finds himself in not particularly comfortable territory – working with the new group on transfer business (with a sporting director still to arrive). 

When asked for a word to describe the new era a tired-looking Tuchel is quick to respond. ‘Intense,’ he says. ‘It has changed a lot. I could never have imagined that I stayed longer at the club than Roman, Marina and Petr.

‘It (transfers) is not my favourite thing to do and in the long run the focus has to be on coaching because it is why I am here,’ he explains. ‘But at the moment, of course my help is needed and wanted, and it is, of course, necessary that I step up and take the responsibility. 

‘I am in contact with Todd directly on a daily basis and sometimes more than once on a daily basis because we are aware that we have a club in transition and change. My concern is for the team to be competitive and for this we have to invest a lot of time and we need to be hands on. There is no other way.’ 

Tuchel confidante Petr Cech is one of multiple key Stamford Bridge departures this summer

Tuchel says he is in contact with new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly directly on a daily basis

One major issue has already been addressed. In what looks like a coup, Raheem Sterling has arrived from Manchester City for £47.5m. The opposite of a coup, Romelu Lukaku, has been shipped out on loan for a year, 12 months after rejoining the club for no less than £97.5m. 

‘There was never a meeting where I said ‘I want this guy out’, Tuchel says of the super flop. 

‘Never. I was always clear – if he stays we will do everything to put him in a better place, to put him in better shape, to improve my style of coaching, our style of playing, to make him a better fit.

‘Romelu made it very clear he wanted to leave and the owners took the decision to make the decision straight away.’ 

Is he disappointed in how it played out?

‘Disappointed is the wrong word,’ he responds. ‘I don’t know a better word in English. It feels like I take it personally – it’s never personal. I am not happy that we couldn’t bring more out of him. 

‘Maybe it would have just taken a bit more time. A bit more fitness, a bit more adaptation in our game. Who knows? But we will not find out. Once Romelu gave his clear opinion on the situation and there was a solution on the table, the owners made their choice and had my blessing.’ 

Romelu Lukaku has been sent on loan to Inter Milan a year after his £97.5m return to Chelsea

Raheem Sterling is likely to be the first of many new arrivals at Stamford Bridge this summer

When asked to name a replacement, Tuchel was quick to pinpoint the City man who, with just a year left on his contract, was keen to secure regular first-team football. 

‘I gave his name to Todd straight away,’ he explains. ‘He’s horrible to play against, horrible. The main point is his intensity and the amount of repetition of intensity that he delivers. This is simply outstanding over the last years. 

‘He caused huge trouble when he played against us and once you dig in deeper into his data and not only statistics in his goal involvements, it’s outstanding. It’s exactly what we need to raise the level of our players. That’s why we are so sure and that’s why he was, for us, top of the list.’ 

Sterling is likely to be the first of many. As we speak Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly is finalising a £34million move from Napoli in London as Chelsea seek to avoid a season of sanction-induced purgatory. 

While he would never say it, you get the impression – given they finished so far behind City and Liverpool last time – Tuchel would take fourth place if you offered it to him now. Moves elsewhere have not gone unnoticed. 

Tuchel believes that Antonio Conte is potentially building Tottenham’s strongest ever team

‘If you look at the transfer period of Tottenham with Antonio Conte, it’s maybe the strongest team they ever built. Man United will not give in, Arsenal will not give in, they’ve made two big signings already.’ Tuchel exhales. 

‘So we are aware of the situation and try to do our best to be competitive.’ 

First things first though, and a final, important question to answer. After the Middlesbrough lobby experience, who is Chelsea’s card shark? Tuchel, the man with the odds against him, smiles before responding. 

‘We will find out in Vegas,’ he says.

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