The conversation Thomas Tuchel had with Kurt Zouma that saw Chelsea defender leave for West Ham

Thomas Tuchel was never going to push Kurt Zouma out of the door at Chelsea this summer. “He has the biggest smile you can imagine and when he smiles you are also instantly happy,” the Blues head coach says. Yet when the opportunity to join West Ham United arose, an honest conversation was required.

Zouma had spent seven years at Chelsea, although two of those involved loans at Stoke City and Everton to aid his recovery after a knee ligament injury. The centre-back was a hugely popular member of the first-team squad and, as highlighted by Tuchel, was an uplifting presence in the dressing room.

He struggled for regular minutes after the German coach’s arrival in January, however. Ahead of him in the pecking order at Stamford Bridge was Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueat. Reece James even deputised in the back three in front of Zouma for the FA Cup final against Leicester City.

This summer was a crossroads in the career of Zouma. He could either remain at Chelsea and pick up the odd start or he could end his association with the club and secure first-team football elsewhere.

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“We held many talks about it in pre-season where we reflected on his position and our [the club’s] position,” Tuchel explained. “And the more we got to know Trevoh Chalobah, we thought maybe if Kurt has a constant wish to go [he can go].

“For many many weeks, there was not an awful lot that interested him. I made it clear, I told him, ‘I love you and we don’t have to have these talks. I am happy for you to stay even if Trevoh comes into the squad’.

“I was happy for him to stay as he is a top-quality player. He could have stayed to fight for his place and he always had a chance to play. But it’s a hard competition.

“He said, ‘ok, if it’s like this’. He accepted it. He was always a top guy on the pitch and in the dressing room.

“His second name is Happy and this is really for a reason. He has the biggest smile you can imagine and when he smiles, you are also instantly happy. He had a huge influence and was very well respected. Then a very late offer came from West Ham.

“We had a talk and he decided this is an offer that it might be perfect for him. We had to make a decision and we respected his wish because he had been a long-term player here.

“We took a bit of a risk to fully trust Trevoh because we did not know at that moment if he could reach the consistent levels [because he hadn’t played for the first team] but I think we’ve been rewarded.

“But I have nothing but good words for Kurt. I am happy I was his coach and he is doing fantastic at West Ham, which is not a surprise.”

After a brief period of adaptation, Zouma has established himself at the heart of the Irons’ defence. He has started and completed the last 10 Premier League games and is a certainty to start against Chelsea.

The France international has never faced the Blues in his career but says he is looking forward to the challenge of trying to thwart his former teammates.

“It will feel special in a way because I’ve been there for so many years,” he told West Ham’s club website. “But it’s a football game and like all the other games I want to win this game for my team.

“I want to beat Chelsea because I want to beat everybody. I play for West Ham now and I’m very happy to be here.

“It’s going to be a tough game as we know they have a lot of strength, but we have to use our strength to make them suffer.”

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