How close is Romelu Lukaku to signing, what will he bring to squad when you announce him?
Well I’m absolutely not in a position to announce anything and I will maybe refuse to talk about it because we are in a match-day minus-1 press conference before a European final.
It’s clearly not the moment for personal discussions of our squad. As you know I have a lot of trust in the existing squad and we proved already we can be a strong side.
I talked many times about how we discussed our ideas together about how to improve the squad which is not easy with Olivier Giroud leaving the club and having an important role over the years, a certain profile of attacker.
We need to wait to see what’s possible and what’s not possible but we are not in any panic, we are happy to work with the team and arrive with the team like this tomorrow, and today there is nothing to announce, and it will always stay like this and I will not talk about it until there is something to announce.
Unique pre-season, how have you managed to juggle such a big squad all returning at different times?
It was pretty new and pretty demanding. I will try to tell the story backwards. Tomorrow we arrive with a squad with some players who actually had one in-house squad game for 45 minutes, and we arrive with players who have been training for five weeks and four matches in their legs.
It’s a widespread group regarding the physical level and it was a big challenge after a very special season with Covid and having almost no break and England in the last summer to have a long season again and a tournament in Europe and Copa America had a huge influence.
It was very demanding, very challenging and I was absolutely happy to have the support of the physical department, who did an amazing job to treat every group individually and try to provide the necessary training for everybody every day.
We were often on the pitch twice a day for double sessions, we had to split the groups, then we had the possibility for a lot of loan guys back at Cobham so we could provide good football training and not just physical work.
Overall, we did the best that we could and I had fantastic support. We arrive at this moment and play an important match, which is fine for us but for a lot of players, the preparation for a very demanding season – including for the Club World Cup in December – will continue over the next weeks.
Of course, we will have a lot of players in a much better shape after the next international break.
Last season, spectacular end, can you talk about the pressure that puts on you and Chelsea?
I can understand your point but it doesn’t feel like pressure because this is what we demand of ourselves, me at the very first point. I demand to get better every day, use my experience and to be the best coach I can be every single day.
I want to lead by example to come into Cobham with a good mood and energy and ready to continue the journey together. It is not over, it has just started and hopefully it will be a long journey.
The courage now is to face the challenge, does anybody have a recipe how to do better after a Champions League victory? I don’t know, it was my first win so I think the courage is to face the challenges, step up and keep on demanding.
We have some things we need to develop and improve, there were things that were very strong last season and we have to maintain that level.
We have to, clearly, rebuild the same spirit that put us in the position to get these results. There are a lot of different tasks to fulfil and the most important is that we don’t lose sight by thinking too much about pressure and expectations.
It is an everyday process and if you take care with it, you don’t get too distracted and it doesn’t get complicated.
Does it lift your players to see new ones come in like Lukaku?
I think it is good for any squad if players with a certain quality or attitude arrive. At the same time, you need to be aware that not everybody is happy if I am a defender and a big player arrives in my position. They might not be fully convinced about this arrival or even happy at all about it.
I think this is pretty human and we have to take care about this. It is not just about collecting players with talent. It is foremost about what can someone bring to the group in terms of character and profile without disturbing them – at the same time keeping people on their toes – so they aren’t too comfortable or in the comfort zone.
That stops people reaching their top level. It’s about keeping everybody on the front foot and in a bit of a state of insecurity where everybody really has to fight for their place. But, there must be a realistic chance to fight for your place. There must be a role in the team for everyone and this is the most important thing. If you can have everything. This is the moment to bring somebody in. If there are some doubts, maybe it is best not to bring someone in.
You said you had 42 players at Cobham, how difficult is it to keep them all happy?
After the friendly match against Arsenal and we had the last group arriving and we went through our list and realised that it would be 42 players on the pitch the next day.
It was clearly not then possible to provide high level training and to provide the appreciation and the quality for everybody that was the moment when we split the group again that was the group that was already with us last half season and then to the group who came back from loan.
But before the Arsenal game we mixed the group together and saw everybody on our pitch at Cobham. It was a very new experience for me, I never did this before.
I was a bit uncertain what to expect. In the end it was super easy because the loan players came with a fantastic attitude. I was almost surprised how positive it was and how fast it felt like really training a normal team and not a team in which the players feel a lot of insecurity, where is my next step and not only players, they have families which live in different countries.
Not an easy situation for them, but they did excellent and we had very good spirits in the training camp in Dublin, we did very good matches with this mixed group and everybody had the chance to show up and bring positive energy and this is what they did.
After Arsenal we split the group back again and sometimes we mixed in slightly smaller groups and levels of physical preparation we are in. we now have Trevoh Chalobah and RLC, they are here with us to make the squad complete and give us options for tomorrow.
This is a constant process to stay in touch with these players that they know my opinion that the board know my opinion and the club knows my opinion and to try good solutions for them for the future.
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Could the late returners for pre-season feature tomorrow?
I think they could start but the question is can they finish? I think no. They have eight days of training in their legs and a European final after eight days is pretty demanding. Let’s be honest: It’s too early to compete for 90 minutes at this type of level.
We have to find a mix and clearly the guys who came in early and have more minutes deserve to start. And the majority of these will start. We have five changes but I am not a fan of planning changes ahead of the match. It’s not a preparation match, it’s our first competitive match. We have to consider all scenarios because there could be extra time, we could even play 120 minutes.
We will have training today and some of the guys maybe start. Then we have to have a scenario in our heads who ends the match, who is better to come onto the pitch, who could have an influence from the bench, who is more comfortable starting. This is the challenge for today but it’s important not to get lost in all these thoughts because it’s a competitive match. It’s not only about sharing minutes, it’s about the first title that we want to win.
Is there truth to Tammy Abraham having agreed a deal with Roma, can you give us clarity on that?
It is the same as players coming in, I will not comment on the actual situation, how far it is, and if it’s true or not true. Tammy is in the squad and did good preparation matches.
He was clearly not happy with the last half a year and he has maybe reason not to be happy. Maybe it was my fault not to push him and trust him at the same level as other players.
I can understand he wants more minutes, so the decision will be how do we plan? What are Tammy’s plans? Does he fight his way back into the team from the position he ended last season? Or does he want to change to the club to one where he has a better chance of being a starter? I can understand and this is the situation. It’s quite a normal situation until the transfer window is closed. Tammy is one of the players where we constantly evaluate the situation and adapt to the needs. There is no news now, he is available for the starting XI tomorrow or to come off the bench.”