TalkChelsea were lucky enough to have an exclusive interview with Fabrizio Romano this week, where he went through all all of Chelsea’s ongoing transfer situations, and here we have the full transcript…
Will Faulks: Do you think Chelsea really wanted Haaland ahead of Lukaku last summer and just decided it wasn’t a deal they wanted to do financially? Or did Lukaku’s connection to Chelsea play a part in making him first choice?
Fabrizio Romano: No, I can’t say that they had like a hierarchy or a list. They know that Haaland and Lukaku are different kinds of strikers, but they are two of the best in the world. If not the best centre strikers in the world. This is why Chelsea were looking in his position – they were trying for Haaland. They were keeping tabs with Mino Raiola for a long time and then talking with people at Borussia Dortmund.
Then the expectation at Chelsea was that maybe the situation on price would change in July or August, with Dortmund changing their position knowing that in summer 2022 Haaland will have a release clause of €80m. So maybe they would be prepared to accept something around €120-125m. But this was not the case. Dortmund were never prepared to accept this kind of proposal. They weren’t willing to accept anything for less than €175-180M, and this is why they were never in advanced negotiations for Haaland.
When they realised the situation was impossible to change, they decided to jump definitively on the Romelu Lukaku deal. But they were preparing this Lukaku deal for weeks, in a top secret way, with the player’s side and also with Inter, who had been expecting Lukaku to stay. Chelsea did very well to go top secret with Lukaku while they were working on a Haaland deal, which wasn’t easy to do in the middle of the window. This is why in 48 hours they had an agreement with Lukaku, and then the negotiations with Inter took a week.
I think it was a perfect strategy, and not an easy one.
And who should get credit for that? Petr Cech or Marina Granovskaia, or is it a team effort? They make mistakes sometimes, but when they want to get a deal done they get it done very quickly decisively.
I would say the whole team deserves credit but in particular Marina. She does great work in this type of strategy. It’s easy for top clubs to throw money at deals in this situation. But in this case we’re talking about a perfect strategy for a complicated situation where we’re talking about centre forwards. It’s very difficult to sign strikers and key players from their clubs. Lukaku was a key player for his club, and Inter’s stance was always that he was too important for them to be able to sell. Then when Romelu was back from the Euros and from holidays, he immediately met with the new manager. So the atmosphere was totally different to two weeks later, when he left to join Chelsea. This was thanks to Chelsea’s strategy, so I think Marina did an incredible job behind the scenes, that is the most difficult part of business in this area.
I suppose if the decision between Haaland and Lukaku comes down to the price someone ends up paying, it will take a while to see if Chelsea were right to say “forget it, at that price Haaland is not worth it.” It’s going to take Lukaku a little longer to prove that that was the right call to make. I guess we’ll see where Haaland ends up and how much people end up paying Mino Raiola. Up front at the moment Chelsea have Timo Werner as their backup option. He’s not probably playing as much as we’d expect, and if he’d been a huge success last year they probably wouldn’t have signed Lukaku at all. Do you see Werner being happy as a backup on either wing and to Lukaku up front, or do you think there’s possibility he could leave next summer if he doesn’t play more?
To be honest I have your same feeling. I think Timo Werner is not a plan B. He is a top striker, who didn’t have a fantastic first season in the Premier League with Chelsea. We know how difficult it is sometimes to move to the Premier League from other countries. Sometimes you have players like Mo Salah moving to Serie A to the Premier League and becoming one of the best players in the league; but sometimes they need time or it’s not the league for them. I think this is the case for Timo Werner now. He was signed to be the top star for many years, then he didn’t perform at the top level and they signed Lukaku. On the mental side it’s not easy for him to be considered a plan B. This is why I think there are chances for Chelsea for Timo Werner to leave Chelsea next summer. I’m not sure yet, because we are in November so we will see what happens. Also because Werner, I’m told, is super professional, so he’s not going to create any problems. He trains at the top level. I say there are chances because of the “striker dominoes.” You mention Haaland – let’s see what happens with Lewandowski. If Bayern want to continue with him and extend his contract, and if he wants to stay there or to try something new. We know that Man City will need a central striker. Let’s see what happens with Harry Kane. But I also think Barcelona will go for a central striker to resolve the situation with Sergio Aguero. Mbappe’s deal with Real Madrid – PSG have to sign a new striker if Mbappe leaves. Juventus will go for a new striker, Inter want to sign a new striker. So it’s a very big domino effect. This is why I think into this domino, particularly for German clubs, Timo Werner could be an interesting opportunity. But it always depends on the price, and at the moment the player isn’t thinking “OK next summer I’m going to leave.” He’s working hard for Chelsea. Last season shows how sometimes the life of a player can change in two months, one month. Look at Toni Rudiger, one year ago he on the market to leave on loan, and now he’s one of the best players in the league.
That’s somewhere Chelsea are very uncertain at the moment – in defence. With four big defenders out of contract. From my point of view writing about it, it’s seemed for a long time that Rudiger will be the one who goes and Christensen will stay, but this Christensen deal never gets signed, and Rudiger never admits he will go. He’s always polite about it but never says he’s going to stay, and as far as I can see he’s just waiting for one of those big teams to make an offer. Who has the money to persuade Rudiger to leave, as well as the potential to win trophies like he can at Chelsea? It seems to me only Bayern and maybe Real Madrid can offer both of those things.
According to what I hear from my sources, Rudiger’s situation is very clear. He wants an important contact. Sometimes it’s hard for fans to understand the money part. But you have to remember one year ago, when the transfer window closed, he was offered to Tottenham, to AC Milan, to Roma, to go on loan with a buy option. This sort of deal. He was considered one of the last players in the Chelsea team. Then Thomas Tuchel joined and his life changed. But one year ago for Chelsea he was out, so I think it’s also fair to understand that after this fantastic year that he had for Chelsea, he wants an important contract and an important salary. He’s worth this salary, and it’s also one of the final contracts for Rudiger because he’s not so young. So we can understand his position. What’s going on right now? The player loves London, loves the club, loves the fans, loves the atmosphere, has a fantastic relationship with the manager. So if tomorrow Chelsea offer what Rudiger wants, I’m 100% sure he will sign a new deal, because he doesn’t want to leave Chelsea. He wants to stay, but we can understand he wants to stay on his own terms. It’s part of life, not just for footballers. So this is the process, it’s up to Chelsea, let’s see what happens in the next meetings with Chelsea. Maybe these performances he’s putting in game after game will persuade Chelsea to say “OK we will give you what you want,” but at the moment it’s far from being agreed.
What’s going on with other clubs? I’m told that Real Madrid are going to look for free agents and Toni Rudiger is on their list. It’s not a negotiation yet with Rudiger’s agents, but they have his name on the list because they did a similar thing with David Alaba a year ago, and they know how important it is to sign key players as free agents in this kind of market. Bayern are looking for a new centre back if Niklas Sule leaves, and Rudiger is one of the names on their list. He’s German so it’s a perfect link too. But keep an eye also on PSG. Because PSG next summer will look for a new centre back, and Rudiger is big opportunity, so that could be one of the potential options for PSG, but at the moment it’s just clubs keeping tabs on the situation. They are informed on Rudiger’s situation with Chelsea, they’re not in advanced negotiations.
And Christensen you still think will eventually sign? Do you have any idea what’s holding it up? We hear mysterious things about agents and clauses, do you think it’s a matter of time?
Yes it was agreed at the end of August, beginning of September, on a verbal basis, they were just waiting for paperwork to arrive and be signed. Then something changed – agents around Christensen started to propose to him the opportunity to go to Barcelona next summer as a free agent, and other teams were proposed to him as other potential options. This is why he’s taking some time before saying yes to Chelsea.
The expectation from both sides is still the same – with Christensen signing a new deal with Chelsea. So I still think in the end it will be done. But I would wait until I see this contract signed, because at the end of August it was really done. Barcelona and Real Madrid will really look for free agents, because these are two clubs which are not in easy situations economically. So they’re looking for these kinds of opportunities – in the case of Christensen, Barcelona specifically. From Chelsea’s side, as Thomas Tuchel says, the atmosphere is positive for both sides, so hopefully the deal will be completed.
It’s good, in both these situations the players are happy and playing well, it’s not turning into a nasty situation where they’re causing issues stuck on the bench. What about Chelsea’s replacements for them? We hear most about Jules Kounde, is he still the favourite? Will Chelsea b able to get him for below his release clause, or is someone going to pay that? I wonder if they will regret not buying him last summer, when there will be more teams interested this time around.
I think Kounde will stay on the list of Chelsea, this is how they work. When they have a target it’s long term. Of course the player is not going to other clubs when it’s long term, and so Kounde I think will be a target for Chelsea in the coming months I’m sure. I don’t know about the release clause, because last summer Chelsea weren’t willing to pay the release clause, maybe next summer they will change their mind. Let’s see what happens, but I’m sure he will be one of the names on the list for Chelsea again – especially because the player was ready to Chelsea. He wanted to join, he was absolutely excited about this idea. Let’s see if other clubs jump in the race, because last summer was only Chelsea. After Man U decided to go for Raphael Varane, and so let’s see next summer if it’s Chelsea alone again, or other clubs will join the race.
I’ve heard a lot of rumours about Matijs de Ligt, but from what I’m told the player is very focused at Juventus, and Juventus have received nothing from Chelsea. It’s a difficult one, it’s very difficult. Sometimes I think that’s underrated because he’s a fantastic player, but Juventus paid €80m to Ajax, and yes a major salary too. He has a release clause next summer valued at around €122m, but I don’t see Chelsea paying that. You’re not paying €50m or €40m for him. He was valued at €80m and has played at a very high level in Serie A. But saw two years ago, one year ago from Chelsea – if they want to go big in the market they know how to do it.
What about Fenerbahce defender Atila Szalai? I notice you and the other big transfer guys didn’t say much about that, and we haven’t heard much since. It seemed like one of those names that just pops up and disappears again, you don’t think there’s anything to that do you?
No I think they were just running with it in Turkey saying that it was one step away from being done. I’m told from people close to the player that he’s one of the players Chelsea are scouting, but but Chelsea are scouting 100 players, maybe more than 100 players in the world every single year. So OK, he’s a player to keep an eye on but nothing else. It’s not a negotiation, there is no proposal. No advanced talks, maybe they will change their minds in the coming months, but nothing imminent.
What about in midfield then, Chelsea have more of a mature squad there, Kante is well into his 30s, Jorginho too. There are debates about their contracts, what is the strategy there, to get them locked down to long term deals? Or to sell them before they really lose their value? And which players might come in – Declan Rice and Aurelien Tchouameni seems favourites.
Yes as you say, they need a strategy and they will have on because Chelsea are always very good with this point. For Jorginho the player wants to stay, he’s been speaking for a long time with Chelsea. His agent say he’s prepared to open talks to renew a contract. But it’s not at the final stages yet. So it will take time. For Kante, immediately after the Champions League final Chelsea told people close to N’Golo Kante they want to open talks in the coming months, in a relaxed way. So they wanted to keep the player relaxed in the Euros, they don’t want to rush it. At the moment there is still no negotiations. So Kante and Chelsea are not talking about a new contract as of now but it’s one of the things that Chelsea have on their agenda. So I think that’s the plan with Kante long term. But you know with these kinds of players, with top clubs looking for midfielders, as I said before with the strikers, this year will be a big big summer for midfielders. PSG and many other clubs will be looking for them – so let’s see what happens.
For the moment it’s one of the things Chelsea have on their agenda. They want to sign a new midfielder, they wanted to do it last summer. Saul was an opportunity, and they did it because it was an opportunity, also because they were not able to spend big money after the transfers they had already had. But let’s see what happens with Saul, how it ends up. At the moment it’s not the best moment for him, but I’m sure after adapting to English life and many other things he will perform at a higher level because I trust this player and I really like him. Apart from Saul, I’m sure that next summer Chelsea are looking for a defensive midfielder. Tchouameni is a player they really appreciate, they’ve always been in touch with his agent – who is the same as Jules Kounde’s. That’s how the contact started. The player would love to go to the Premier League one day. There are a lot of players in this race – Juventus are interested if the deal is next summer not January. Real Madrid are keeping tabs on midfielders including Tchouameni. It’s a long race, but Chelsea are there.
For Declan Rice – many, many club involved. Man U are keeping tabs. Man City will go for a midfielder too and Rice is appreciated, so it will be a really complicated one, also because of the price. West Ham one year ago were asking for €80m, I think now he’s worth more than this, so it’s going to be a complicated negotiation.
A lot of interested teams bidding the price up, as you say. I think Tchouameni could have been seen as a cheap option not long ago, but now he’s getting two France caps in every international break, you can just see that price rising and a lot of teams thinking “we should have made that move before.”
Yes, I agree, this price last summer was around €38, €40m, now you’re not signing this player for that. You’re spending €60-65m. As you mention he’s playing in the national team, he’s playing great with Monaco. At the end of the season could be around €65m and it’s not going to be easy. But Chelsea are linked, and it’s a player they love, and it’s a player they could use in the future. When you think a player is worth this money, it could be the right opportunity. But it’s still not at the negotiation stage.
And he would still be a cheap option compared to Rice – who would be in the €100m+ range. With the big English teams involved, the price is always going to be inflated.
That’s how it is with English players, you know better than me, when players are English and top English clubs want them, the price is different, and this part of the market in every single country. Spanish players in Spain, Italian players in Italy, it’s absolutely normal. But at the same time I would say that I think also Declan Rice himself needs to make a decision at the end of the season. Where he wants to go, because he was in a negotiation with Chelsea one year ago, we know how close it was because Chelsea were serious on this deal. Then Man United were keeping tabs on him last summer, and many many clubs are involved in this race, so it’s also about the player in this case.
Finally we’re left in goal, and there’s only one player we can go with in goal – the world’s most expensive goalkeeper Kepa. Thankfully Edu Mendy’s done so well that nobody talks about Kepa much anymore, but surely Chelsea will have to think about trying to get some money for him eventually, or a loan. Do you think anything has ever been close on that front? Have they ever had anything they’ve considered?
The goalkeeper market is very different. Top clubs have top goalkeepers right now, at this historical moment – look at PSG, Real Madrid, Barcelona, in England too, so it’s very difficult to find the right spot for these kinds of goalkeepers. And with big salaries! Because the salaries of goalkeepers are getting bigger, not just Kepa, just look at De Gea. Manchester United weren’t able to find any interest last summer because his salary is completely out of market. This is why for Kepa it’s not going to be super easy to find a permanent deal. They had some approaches for loans but the player wants to be 100% sure of his next step, and I think it’s normal after moving to Chelsea, having a record move and then not performing at the beginning so well. Now he’s doing great, I think he’s really underrated at this stage, because he’s doing really well when he’s called upon for Chelsea. Now the boy is relaxed, he’s doing really well and I think this is positive for him. So I’m sure they will look for opportunities, but I think it will be a loan with buy option, this kind of deal. I think it’s going to be difficult to find a permanent deal for €30m or €40m.
So that’s the kind of price you think Chelsea would accept, if someone offered Chelsea €40m now would they take it and lose €40m on their purchase?
It’s very difficult to put a price on him. I’m saying €30m or €40m because that’s my opinion, but to be honest with you I don’t know what the final price might be I’m sure that Chelsea would accept money to allow the player to go. At the moment no-one is offering, of course they’re not going to accept something like €20m or €10m, so I think not less than €35m.
I think Kepa knows Mendy is a special goalkeeper, a special player, a fantastic guy, super appreciated in the dressing room, and with the fans. Chelsea had the chance to sign Donnarumma as a free agent last summer, but he wasn’t convinced to go to England, and Chelsea were absolutely sure in saying “we want to go on with Mendy” and having Mendy knowing that “he is our goalkeeper.” They didn’t want to put pressure on him. He has an incredible number of clean sheets this season, he’s really the best, really underrated.
A couple of quick questions for you before we finish: Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta. What would you say out of ten, how likely that they stay another year each?
For Thiago Silva it’s close to 9 or 10, he’s super happy with London, with Chelsea, he wants to stay and play the World Cup, and playing at the top level and staying in Europe is important. They will talk soon over a new contract until 2023 but it’s a matter of time to discuss and find a way to continue togehter.
For Azpilicueta it’s true that Barcelona have an interest in him as they’ve said in Spain. It’s true that there is an interest in him in Barcelona, because they’re looking for these kinds of opportunities, Azpi, Christensen, these kinds of opportunities. But at the same time, he is part of Chelsea he loves Chelsea, and for their part they’re planning to meet him and offer him a new deal and they’re very relaxed.
We’ve had a lot of manager movements in the last couple of weeks in the Premier League, and we know your Premier League team is Watford. If you were picking one of these top guys – Tuchel, Guardiola, Klopp or Conte, who would be the one you pick at Watford and why?
I think it’s really underrated internationally what Thomas Tuchel did with Chelsea last season. Arriving at the club at the end of December, in a difficult situation and winning the Champions League. In my opinion it’s something historic. It’s one of the biggest things achieved by a manager in the history of football. Winning the Champions League with that team, it’s special. In my opinion it wasn’t a team to win the Champions League. It was a very good team, a strong team, but it wasn’t on the level of PSG or Man City. I mean the whole squad of 23 or 24 players, so chapeau to Thomas Tuchel and his players.
But my pick would be Antonio Conte. I’m in love with this manager. You know why – you asked me about Watford. If’ I am Barcelona president maybe I would say Guardiola or Klopp or Tuchel but if I am Watford president I think that Antonio is special to have in those difficult situations, to turn those situations into winning situations. He’s a winner and he changes the mentality in the club. I think he’s the perfect manager for these situations, as at Tottenham. They did a masterpiece to get him, it was impossible 3 or 4 months to get him, and they did it. You know from Chelsea how special he is.
That’s what makes it so hard for us, despite how things ended, most fans like me love Conte so much and it’s heart breaking watching a game like yesterday and wanting him to lose. It felt unnatural, wanting him to lose. I can see Conte out of all of those managers straight away at Watford, just with any old group of players you can imagine him with a bit of shouting and a few hardcore drills and preferably a preseason I can see him getting anyone another ten places up in the table for sure.
I agree, I agree, I agree.
That only leaves one question left then – Chelsea are up at the top of the league at the moment but there are a lot of top teams out there. Who is going to win the league this season any why is it Chelsea?
*laughs politely* I still think Man City are favourites because of their squad of 23 players. So I see Man City as the favourites. But I think Chelsea will compete until the last game. They were incredible against Leicester, and it was impressive how sure they are in everything they do on the pitch. On the mental side, the technical side, this team is incredible. Now they are like a machine. Chelsea are like a machine. I love watching Chelsea now, they’re a serious team, an international team, completely changed in one year. And so I think they will compete until the last game to win the Premier League. They will be in it and in the Champions League, I’m sure they will do great. Because as I say, they seem like XI machines on the pitch, and it means in the mental side Tuchel did something great. The way his teams go on the pitch every time is really special. And that’s without Lukaku.
So you really believe Tuchel will find a way to use Lukaku and he will end up with 20 goals this season?
I don’t know about the goals, but I’m sure Tuchel will find the solution and after the injury will be back a top player.
Thank you so much, Fabrizio.