Antonio Conte insists Romelu Lukaku was a 'good signing' for Chelsea

Antonio Conte backs Chelsea flop Romelu Lukaku: 'He was a good signing' - REUTERS
Antonio Conte backs Chelsea flop Romelu Lukaku: 'He was a good signing' - REUTERS

Tottenham Hotspur head coach Antonio Conte has insisted that Romelu Lukaku is still one of the best strikers in the world and was a good signing for Chelsea, but suggested a “situation outside football” forced him to return to Inter Milan.

Chelsea spent a club record £97.5million on Lukaku last summer after the Belgian had been prolific under Conte at Inter, but the move quickly turned sour and he has returned to Italy on loan.

It means there will be no reunion with Lukaku for Conte when his Tottenham team visit Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but the episode has not diminished the Italian’s view of his former player.

Lukaku angered Chelsea by giving an interview in which he questioned the tactics of head coach Thomas Tuchel and Conte said: “We are talking about a big amount of money for a player and I think we are talking about a really important striker in the world.

“But sometimes a situation outside of football happens and I think Romelu lived two years in Milan and he was the king. The fans showed him a lot of passion and I think he’s a guy who needs this. And for this reason, I think he wanted to go back to Milan.

“But, for sure, the signing was a good signing for Chelsea. Then, you know very well there are players that need more time to make an impact. But, for sure, he was a good signing for Chelsea.

“He has the potential to play in the Premier League. I remember very well when he started to play last season, he played really well and you in the media said Lukaku is really strong.

“A lot of things can happen for the confidence to drop. Now it's right for him to play for an important club in Italy to try to get again confidence in himself. But we are talking about a really important, a really good striker.”

Lukaku is one of a number of forwards who have thrived under Conte’s coaching. Son Heung-min managed a season’s best 23 under him and Harry Kane finished last term with 17 goals after starting so slowly under former Spurs manager Nuno Espirito Santo.

When Conte was in charge of Chelsea, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa both enjoyed their joint-best goalscoring seasons during Chelsea’s last title success.

Heading into Sunday’s London derby, Tottenham have scored 17 more Premier League goals than Chelsea during 2022 - with their total of 51 so far better than even Manchester City. Chelsea’s 34 goals is the fourth best of the top-flight teams, one more than Leicester City.

“The stats speak very clearly and in every team that I trained, we were always the first or the second best attacking team,” said Conte. “My football is attacking football. Our idea is to score one more goal than the other, for sure. I know that to win something important, to lift trophies, you need to have a good balance offensively and defensively.

“Usually those who lift trophies don’t concede a lot of goals, usually they have the best defence. For me, in this year to score so many goals it’s OK, because it shows that my team, my players understood what I want, to score with many players is important.

“At the same time to have players like Sonny and Harry, now also Richy (Richarlison), it’s important because you know at the end of the season they are going to score many, many goals and they are vital for a team.”

The January signing of Dejan Kulusevski has undoubtedly boosted Tottenham’s numbers and his impact from the right highlights why Tuchel signed Raheem Sterling and spoke of Chelsea needing better numbers from the flanks, as well as through the middle.

Kulusevski averages a goal or assist every 90 minutes for Tottenham, which is better than any of Chelsea’s wide players. Surprisingly, Christian Pulisic has the best goal-and-assist rate of Sunday’s hosts, with an average of one in every 119 minutes during his 13 league appearances this year.

Tottenham midfielder Giovani Lo Celso is rejoining Villarreal on loan and Napoli are discussing a move for Tanguy Ndombele, but another Spurs midfielder, Harry Winks, has so far shown a reluctance to move to Sampdoria after the Italian club made an offer.