Romelu Lukaku is back at Chelsea and we caught up with the striker on his return to Cobham for an exclusive first interview to discuss how he’s developed as a player and a person, his important relationship with Didier Drogba and how Thomas Tuchel sees him fitting into the Blues team…
Romelu, you’re back! Have things changed much here in the seven years since you departed?
‘The building has got bigger but it’s always looked this good! I’m very happy to be back. It’s good to be around the people and see a lot of familiar faces so I’m looking forward to getting to work with the team.
‘I’ve seen Hakim Ziyech so we had a little chat and I’ve been added to the WhatsApp group but I’m waiting to see the rest of the players tomorrow.'
-Stay tuned for an exclusive first video interview with our new striker!
You’ve been self-isolating over the weekend so what did you make of Saturday’s win against Crystal Palace?
‘It was a good win and the manner in which we won with a dominant 3-0 scoreline and creating a lot of chances. We also pressed and recovered the ball high. We didn’t really get into any problems so it was good.
‘Hopefully we can keep that level of performance up. We’re going to have to because the Premier League is very difficult but I’m looking forward to this challenge.’
It’s almost 10 years to the day since you first arrived at Cobham as an 18-year-old from Anderlecht. What are the main differences between Lukaku the player then and now?
‘I just feel more complete. I’ve tried to master all the facets that a striker needs and I just want to keep improving on the small details all the time and keep improving on my strengths as well.
‘I just want to try to help the team win and be available for the manager as well as for my team-mates. I want to make sure that they feel comfortable and they can lean on me in whatever situation we’re in.’
You’re also a completely different personality, a recent Serie A winner and coming into a slightly younger dressing room than before…
‘I’m a leader but I’m also more of a gel person, making sure that everybody feels comfortable and confident. That’s the way I lead. When I was at Inter and when I’ve been captain of the national team, I make sure that everybody is confident and knows what they have to do.
‘When there’s a difficult moment in the game, they can lean on me and I’ll always be encouraging my team-mates, never being down on them or barking at them. I try to stay positive and make sure that we win the game because that’s always the most important thing.’
Have you managed to speak much to the boss Thomas Tuchel about how he sees your role in the team?
'Yes, of course! The conversation was really clear from him, that he wants me to be a presence and a leader in the team. I have to just use all my abilities to make sure I can help the team as much as possible.
‘My role will depend on what the game plan is and what the boss wants me to do. If he wants me to be a focal point or if he wants me to attack the spaces in behind, I can do it. The two years in Italy helped me master all the facets of the game for a striker and now I’m ready.
‘I like the system that we play and I’m very flexible. I can play as a two or by myself and I’m used to the system because it’s what we play with the Belgian national team so I don’t need much time to adapt. It’s just knowing the strengths of my team-mates in important positions and knowing what we do off the ball, then I can do the rest.’
You scored 30 goals for Inter last season as the Nerazzurri won the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years but prior to that you played for eight seasons in the Premier League. What are the main difference you found between the leagues?
‘Italy is tactically and technically a better league but here in England, it’s all about the intensity. That’s what makes the difference but it’s no problem for me because I’ve been here for eight years and I know what it’s all about.
‘It’s not like I’m a new player coming in and not quite knowing what to expect. I know the league, I’ve scored a fair amount of goals here but the past is the past and now we have to look forward.
‘I’m a new version of that player from before. I’ve evolved and the team that I’m joining is a very strong team so now we just have to prove it on the pitch by challenging for the Premier League.’
Do you feel like you have unfinished business here in England and at Chelsea?
‘I don’t really talk about my personal ambitions but they lean with the club’s ambitions. That’s why I came back. Chelsea wants to keep winning, keep growing as a club and really dominate in England and Europe. That’s something that I wanted and I’m here now so it’s up to me to help the team achieve its potential.’
We’ve seen on social media how close you are to Blues legend Didier Drogba. Have you been in close contact in recent weeks then?
‘Our relationship means the world to me. It’s not like we talk once a month, I talk to the guy every few days! We have a group chat so we’re constantly communicating and I’ve been on the phone with him a bit more in the past two weeks.
‘I had a lot of questions to ask and he still knows a lot of people here so he really prepared me well with the last details. Now I just need to get to know the players and the manager a bit better and just be available as quickly as possible for the team.’
So now you’re in the building, what are the plans for the next few days?
‘I’m ready so it’s just about getting into the team and trying to prove myself to the coaches that if I’m needed, I can play. We all have to compete throughout the week to earn our starting spot.
‘For me it’s going to be a new fight but we’re all fighting for one cause – to make sure that Chelsea win! I’ll make sure that in training I give 100 per cent every day and make sure that I’m ready for each game.
‘I’m happy the first one is a big game away at Arsenal so hopefully we can prepare ourselves well and get a good result.’