Romelu Lukaku has added to Chelsea's on- and off-field headaches, with newly published comments from the striker declaring his dissatisfaction with Thomas Tuchel's usage of him at a time when he was struggling to establish himself in the manager's starting XI.
In an interview with Sky Italy, Lukaku declared himself unhappy with his situation -- and Tuchel's system -- at Chelsea while revealing his desire to return to Inter Milan mere months after his $135 million move from the Italian champions to Stamford Bridge. At the time, Lukaku was professing how rejoining the club he had left in 2014 was bringing his career full circle; now he has indicated that west London is certainly not the last stop in his prime years.
CBS Sports understands the interview took place three weeks ago, something which may go some way to changing the tenor of Lukaku's comments. At the time, he had returned from a hamstring injury but was being carefully managed by Tuchel, making substitute appearances in four straight Premier League matches before testing positive for COVID-19. Since returning from that further spell on the touchline, he scored and won a penalty in a second-half cameo against Aston Villa before starting and scoring against Brighton.
Still, any time is a bad time for a club's record signing to express dissatisfaction with the way he is being managed, as Lukaku has clearly done. "Physically I am fine ... I'm not happy with the situation and that's only natural," he said. "The head coach has decided to play a different system and I mustn't let up, I need to keep working hard and be professional. I'm not happy with the situation but I'm a grafter and I mustn't let up."
Chelsea would note that Lukaku has now fulfilled those vows to play himself back into form, but they would surely acknowledge that the emergence of these quotes could be better timed as Tuchel battles injuries and COVID-19 cases that may have already derailed the Blues' title challenge. Their last eight Premier League games have brought three wins, four draws and two defeats, sending them from the top of the table to eight points off leaders Manchester City.
Meanwhile, an injury to Reece James in Wednesday's draw with Brighton offered further cause for concern with fellow wing back Ben Chilwell having been ruled out for the season. If those are more immediate concerns lurking in the distance are questions over the future of four senior defenders -- Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Thiago Silva -- who are out of contract at the end of the season. The latter is expected to agree an extension but talks have broken down with both Rudiger, a target for Real Madrid, and Christensen.
As for Lukaku, the bulk of his interview was given over to making amends with Inter Milan, whose supporters were far from pleased with the nature of his departure after he had led them to the Scudetto. A statement of notable concern for Chelsea may be the 28-year-old's desire to return to the San Siro and win more while he is still at his "top level." Equally, the Blues hierarchy will be acutely aware that the Nerazzuri do not have the sort of financial muscle to match the $135 million fee they paid a few months ago.
"I think everything that happened last summer was not supposed to happen like this ... how I left Inter, the way I left the club, how I communicated with Inter fans -- this bothers me because it was not the right time," he said. "Now it's the right time to share my feelings. I have always said that I have Inter in my heart: I know I will return to Inter, I really hope so. I am in love with Italy, this is the right moment to talk and let people know what really happened.
"I really hope from bottom of my heart to return to Inter not at the end of my career, but when I'm still at top level to win more together."
In 95 appearances for Inter between 2019 and 2021, Lukaku scored 64 goals, winning the league MVP title last season after guiding his side to their first title in 11 years. You can catch Inter's quest to repeat in Italy and Chelsea's quest to repeat in the Champions League on Paramount+.