Thomas Tuchel accepts the club-record signing of Romelu Lukaku puts more pressure on him to deliver success at Chelsea, although the German says it will not affect him or how he works.
The Blues went into the summer transfer window intent on securing a new striker. There were three names at the top the club’s shortlist: Erling Haaland, Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane.
It was clear early on that a deal for Kane would be almost impossible. Not only would the 28-year-old cost close to £150million, but Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy is not in the business of selling players to Chelsea. See the club’s pursuit of Luka Modric in the summer of 2011 as proof of that.
The Blues did explore the possibility of signing Haaland from Borussia Dortmund. However, no official bid was submitted after the Bundesliga side made it clear only an exorbitant fee (north of £150million) would be accepted for the 20-year-old.
And so Chelsea turned to Lukaku. The Belgian had stated publicly in June that he would remain at Inter Milan for the 2021/22 campaign. Yet the Serie A club’s financial situation coupled with the lure of returning to his boyhood club eventually led to a deal worth around £98million being done for the 28-year-old.
Lukaku, after self-isolating for five days, joined first-team training on Tuesday and is expected to make his debut against Arsenal on Sunday at the Emirates.
The signing of the striker is viewed by many as the missing piece of the puzzle for Tuchel. His addition has even led to many pundits tipping the Blues as the favourites for the Premier League title.
Tuchel has downplayed that tag over the past week. Yet he accepts the addition of a world-class forward does put more pressure on him to bring more silverware to Stamford Bridge.
“There were not many names but one of the absolute top solutions was Romelu,” Tuchel said on Chelsea’s search for a striker this summer.
“We tried and we tried hard. We could feel he tried hard and we reached a point that is very important but has maybe not been mentioned: how much does the player want to play for Chelsea?
“How much of the story does he want to write at this club? Is this the next step on his way? Or is it like, ‘yes, I would love to but I am happy where I am’. Or is it, ‘yes, this comes at the right moment and I will actually walk to you’. And this is what Romelu absolutely transmitted to us.
“Does this [Lukaku’s signing] add the pressure on me, personally? Yes, but I don’t feel it. I am also not hiding from it. Of course not, because we try to make the squad better and to be better is to be at the same level as last season but consistently, over a longer period.
“This is what I demand of myself and it does not work without quality. We are not doing magic on the sidelines. We try to bring out the best from players and from the team and these two things we try to bring together.
“But, in the end, we can only push for things that people have and Romelu brings something to the squad on which we are absolutely aware and convinced by.
“So, at the moment, it is more fun than pressure. It looks like the perfect fit and it’s our job of course to bring out the best of this group.”
Lukaku is, thus far, Chelsea’s only summer signing. Yet the Blues have still been busy in the transfer market. Several players have moved on from Stamford Bridge, either permanently or on loan, including the likes of Champions League winners Tammy Abraham, Emerson and Olivier Giroud.
Tuchel insists he found the departures of that trio difficult. Not because they had starring roles in the side but because of what they brought to his squad.
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He said: “You might think it was easy to lose them, but every loss from the group means something to the energy, to the chemistry, with whom were they are friends? With whom did they connect? Who were they pushing? Who was pushing them?
“Guys like Emerson, like Tammy Abraham, like Oli Giroud. They were hugely involved in this group and a big part of the success. But change is a process.
“Once you bring players for the amount of money but also of the status and the quality [of Lukaku] then of course expectations do not get lower. It’s actually the same for us. My expectations do not get lower so let’s be positive about it and do our best.”