THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES
The Lukaku Conundrum
How do you solve a problem like Romelu Lukaku? You loan him out, as quickly as possible; you send him back to a place where he was happy and hope he scores enough goals that his resale value doesn't tank completely. He's heading back to Inter Milan, so the papers believe.
Chelsea linked with £103m Juve defender De Ligt
All in all, tremendous business from the Italians. Sell a player for the best part of €100m, then bring him back a year later - happy and grateful and thoroughly re-motivated - for a fraction of the cost. For Chelsea, meanwhile, this whole experiment goes down as a tremendously expensive mistake: all that money and just 15 goals. Though perhaps that isn't a truly awful return, given that Thomas Tuchel couldn't ever work out what to do with him.
If this were the previous Chelsea regime, we might wonder if Lukaku wasn't being stashed offshore, to return whenever the next head coach on the merry-go-round gets a turn. This, after all, is the club where Victor Moses went from fringe squad player to the best wing-back in the world and then back again, as the club chewed through managers and systems. One manager's flop is another manager's superstar.
But Stamford Bridge is under new ownership, and perhaps the carousel has stopped at just the wrong time for Lukaku. The names flying around the rumour mill - Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech out; Raheem Sterling, Ousmane Dembele, Gabriel Jesus in - suggest that Tuchel is being given license to remake the team's attack as he sees fit. Can they press? Can they play alongside Kai Havertz? Can they go a whole season without giving an interview about how much they want to be somewhere else?
And perhaps the true meaning of Lukaku's second spell at Chelsea will be found beyond the 'EPL All Time Worst Transfers!!!' content. Perhaps he will come to stand as the final great folly of the old Roman Abramovich ways, where players arrived according to some inscrutable method, then fell in and out of favour as the coaches came and went. A monument to less sensible ways; a reminder that a good footballer is a happy footballer, and a happy footballer is one with a job to do and with a boss that thinks they can do it.
Thomas Tuchel, Manager of Chelsea interacts with Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea
Image credit: Getty Images
Here Come The Euros
The Warm-Up, being a gentle soul that hates confrontation, finds the idea of being an elite football coach equally horrifying and baffling. And an international coach? Totally terrifying.
Almost the first thing an international coach has to do, when getting ready for a big tournament, is stand up and break somebody's heart. If by some strange series of events we did end up in charge of the England team, we'd lose our job almost immediately after we refused to cut our final squad down from 93 players. "They all deserve a chance!" we'd wail, as security led us away. "They're all great! I can't decide!"
Fortunately for the FA, Sarina Weigman is actually capable of doing the job. This is not so fortunate for Steph Houghton, who won't be adding to her 121 caps this summer. At a home tournament. At what might have been her last tournament. It's a cruel business, football. But the future comes for us all in the end.
An international squad is a tiny ticking narrative bomb, that can only be defused in victory. If England win, then the big calls - Houghton's omission, Fran Kirby's inclusion, the choice of Jill Scott over Katie Zelem - will have all been correct. If England don't, then it becomes a question of 'what if?', and the international 'what if?' inevitably becomes 'who else?'. Weigman has just submitted a list that contains, in as-yet-unrevealed form, many of the questions that will be thrown back at her if things don't go well.
But whatever happens, England have got really good at presenting these lists. These days, the countdown to any international tournament begins with a short video featuring all of the following: kids being funny, communities coming together, and Ian Wright being Ian Wright. Now, finally, it's actually summer.
The Big Fish Eat The Little Fish
At some point today, Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, will stand up in front of an audience of football suits and say the following: "It's not fair! They cheated! It's not fair! Haaland! Mbappe! It's not faaaaaiiiirrrrrrr."
And you know what? He may well have a point.
La Liga has formally complained to UEFA that Manchester City and PSG, as state-run clubs, are making money "through direct money injections or through sponsorship and other contracts that do not correspond to market conditions or make economic sense." And "these practices alter the ecosystem and the sustainability of football, harm all European clubs and leagues, and only serve to artificially inflate the market, with money not generated in football itself."
As with all of football's high-level arguments, it's intensely difficult to muster any sympathy for any party. Perhaps if La Liga were a resolutely egalitarian exercise in which stringent salary caps kept things competitive, or even just a sustainable ecosystem, then Tebas' complaints might sound less sour.
But then, it isn't a question of sympathy. Not really. It's a question of power. And if state-backed clubs are able to ignore or otherwise evade the rules that apply to everybody else, that isn't just a question of competitive fairness. It's about who is in charge of football. Tebas would like it to be La Liga. UEFA, UEFA. And PSG and City have their own ideas. And the winner gets to decide what football looks like. Choose your fighter.
IN OTHER NEWS
Football clubs are vulnerable things, and Birmingham City's fans have been through plenty in the last few years. So when Laurence Bassini pops up as the face of a takeover bid - that's former Watford owner and double-bankrupt Laurence Bassini, who was once banned from football for three years for dishonesty - you can understand why everybody might be a little concerned. However, this interview will have put all those fears to rest. And replaced them with much bigger, stranger fears.
From Gareth Southgate's point of view, one of the worst things about Wednesday night's humiliation at Molineux was the timing. There's almost a month until Euro 2022 kicks off. A whole month to talk about Hungary, the fans, the booing, the anger, the performance, the past, the future… if ever a man needed Manchester United to do something stupid in the transfer market, it's Southgate.
So, some England takes. Over at the Athletic, Jack Pitt-Brooke correctly identifies that Molineux marked "the bubbling-over for a long trend of Southgate-scepticism". For the Guardian, Barney Ronay connects "the violence of the reaction, the squeals of genuine rage" to "the vast freighted load of English insularity, English expectation." And from a practical point of view, Football365's Ian King suggests that, after Qatar, "it is probably time that this chapter does draw to a close". He even manages to find a plus-side to the winter World Cup.
"The good news here is that the peculiarities of the calendar, and in particular the decision to hold a World Cup finals in the middle of the winter, work in everybody’s favour. With the mounting cycle of hype punctured, Southgate could leave his position after these finals, then take a break ahead of looking for a club job for the following summer. The FA, meanwhile, could begin a process of accession to put a manager in place at the end of the season, with a caretaker minding it until then."
Still, it could be worse. The last time Hungary came over to England and embarrassed their hosts so comprehensively was in 1953, and that led to a full-blown existential crisis about the way the game was played. Tactics were revised, training was revolutionised, and six of that England side - including Stan Mortensen and Alf Ramsey - never played for their country again.
Goodbye, Nations League; hello, Euro 2022 warm-up games. England's women take on Belgium this evening.
Assuming he can get his list of possible stories down from 93, Andi Thomas will be back tomorrow.
All change at Chelsea as Boehly takes control of transfers - The Warm-Up
Chelsea face battle to land Dembele - Paper Round
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