ROMELU LUKAKU will be surprisingly easy to replace, despite costing Chelsea £97.5million.
The club’s most expensive player scored only eight Premier League goals in his doomed year back at Stamford Bridge, so will hardly be missed.
But the first business for the new-look board of Chelsea directors, which was unveiled yesterday, was to swallow hard and accept a sizeable financial and reputational hit on a lame duck striker.
The paltry £7m loan fee Chelsea are receiving for sending Lukaku back to Inter Milan is embarrassing in itself.
As it stands, fledgling club chairman Todd Boehly is today staring at a £90.5m loss on one player just 24 hours after officially taking up position at the Bridge.
That would be enough to buy Manchester City’s incoming jewel Erling Haaland — and leave just shy of £40m change!
Champions City and Liverpool are the teams Chelsea need to catch if they want to regain the Premier League title after a six-year gap.
Right now last season’s top two are heading in one direction and Chelsea the other.
Whatever they ultimately trouser from offloading Lukaku, it will not make up for what the Londoners spent or the time and patience invested in a player who wanted out for six months.
That cash is also at least a year away.
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Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel warns things may get worse before they get better in the bid to overhaul the two teams dominating English football at present.
While Tuchel has been talking exit terms for the player bought to transform Chelsea into title contenders, City and Liverpool have already secured reinforcements.
At Anfield they are waving goodbye to the prolific Sadio Mane but have brought in Darwin Nunez from Benfica for an initial £64m.
Nunez, 22, scored 32 goals in 41 games for Benfica last season — although the Portuguese league is hardly a ferocious testing ground.
While City boss Pep Guardiola has also moved early to secure Haaland from Borussia Dortmund for £51.4m.
The Norwegian netted 85 times in 88 games for the German giants.
Admittedly, both carry the risk of the unknown regardless of their respective price tags.
Yet already Chelsea — who finished 19 points behind City and 18 adrift of Liverpool last term — are being left even further behind by the two northern juggernauts.
It is only June and Tuchel has time to get down to serious shopping this summer before the transfer window closes on September 1.
But Chelsea will have to overcome the financial loss on Lukaku, even if his absence will not be noticed on the pitch.
Raheem Sterling, Richarlison and Ousmane Dembele are three attacking players who could provide more firepower for Tuchel albeit in a different way to how Lukaku was supposed to.
Tuchel is pushing hard for new players and is ready to let more of his current group leave if necessary to bankroll future signings.
However, the feeling on the ground among some of the squad members left behind is that finding one or two players to boost the frontline is nothing compared to the need to replace Antonio Rudiger.
The loss of Chelsea’s leader in defence to Real Madrid is still being felt keenly by members of the dressing room, who are concerned even while on holiday.
Tuchel’s team would have scored a lot more goals last season with better finishing.
But with Rudiger in the side, there was a feeling of utter confidence in the back line even when results were patchy.
Rudiger’s unveiling at Madrid on Monday was beamed worldwide on TV and, for those players who will still be at the Bridge next season, it was painful viewing.
Chelsea have been trying to find the next ‘Rudi’ for some time and are yet to get a deal done.
Sevilla’s Jules Kounde came close to joining in January but haggling over the player’s £69m release clause ultimately caused the deal to collapse.
Even now, there are reports Kounde’s representatives are becoming frustrated at a lack of action.
Chelsea’s new ownership has been swift and decisive in ditching Lukaku.
The fans, who have recently been told they can now start renewing season tickets after Government sanctions were lifted, want to see similarly bold moves for incomings.
Put Chelsea into Google search and dozens of names flash up.
Juventus centre-half Matthijs de Ligt, Lens right-back Jonathan Clauss, Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella, City forward Gabriel Jesus.
American Boehly has promised £1.75billion of investment over the next ten years while staying within Financial Fair Play rules.
Lukaku supposedly ‘wept tears of joy’ when he was informed that a nightmare ten months back in London was over.
The supporters and Tuchel could be forgiven for doing the same.
Insiders say that Lukaku remained amicable, committed and part of the overall squad.
There has been no fallout with Tuchel. The German will keep smiling but needs to get bodies in to keep the punters happy.
So far this summer they have lost Lukaku, Rudiger and Andreas Christensen and said goodbye to the ‘bad business deal’ that was Danny Drinkwater. In return they have pocketed just £7m.