Graeme Souness says Romelu Lukaku must apologise to his team-mates after comments he made in an interview led to Thomas Tuchel dropping the striker from Chelsea’s squad for their huge Super Sunday clash with Liverpool.

However, fellow pundit Gary Neville says an apology isn’t necessary if Lukaku has told the truth – but he must work hard to win back the trust of his manager and fans in what is now “rather than a love story, a transactional relationship.”

In an interview with Sky Italy, recorded a few weeks ago but aired this week, Lukaku – who has only just returned to the starting line-up after injury and Covid – said he was unhappy with his role at the club and would like to return to Inter Milan in the near future.

Sky Sports pundit Souness described Lukaku’s decision to say those things as “ridiculous and damaging” and backed boss Thomas Tuchel for leaving out the £97.5m forward, despite the enormity of the game.

In the end, Chelsea drew 2-2 with Liverpool – a result which only really benefits Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“You’re trying to understand how a player has got to a stage where he’s come out with such a ridiculous and damaging statement,” said Souness.

“We’ve all played with players who need to be training every day and playing every week to get the best out of them. Lukaku is a powerful man, and he’s been used sparingly by the manager.

“He’s physically big and strong and has to be playing games all the time to be scoring goals. Wayne Rooney, I imagine, had to be like that to get the very best out of him. [Lukaku] was frustrated at not coming back and going straight into the team and has come up with the nonsense he’s said.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

“It was totally disrespectful. He’s 29 years old not 19 and he should know better. This damages the football club enormously. It’s like walking into a dressing room and telling the other guys, ‘I don’t want to be with you anymore’.

“It damages the manager, and he should say, ‘If you don’t fancy it here, there’s the door. On you go’. The first thing I’d do if I was Thomas Tuchel is I’d tell Lukaku that he needs to apologise. He needs to stand in front of everyone in the dressing room and apologise unreservedly.

“If he’s not prepared to come to me as the manager, I’d come to him and have an honest conversation over whether he really meant it or whether it was a mistake. If he’s not apologised, then he’s done the right thing [in leaving him out].

“Tuchel has put a marker down and Lukaku has more than crossed the line. He has to apologise to his team-mates. It was so offside, it beggars belief.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Neville: No need for ‘sorry’ – but Lukaku must now work hard

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Meanwhile, Neville took a different view, instead hoping Lukaku doesn’t backtrack on his comments for the sake of it.

Instead, the former Manchester United captain wants to see the Belgian accept the situation he is in – and the large contract he is on at Chelsea – and deliver the goals the club expects from him.

“I don’t think any manager could be criticised for that approach [to drop Lukaku],” he said. “Control is critical for a manager. If you have heard those words in the week, they’re not easy words for the manager to hear and not easy words for the owner to hear. But also for the team-mates who are trying to win a Premier League title.

“I’ve been very critical of players over this last three or four months for standard, bland PR messages, not being themselves and when a player comes out and is truthful and authentic, I can’t stand here and say that it’s something I don’t want to hear. I know Chelsea’s fans don’t want to hear it, I know Chelsea’s owners and players don’t want to hear it but from our point of view, he’s told the truth.

“When he came on against Aston Villa two weeks ago I thought he had a fantastic impact on the game. But when I looked at his body shape, he looked like the Manchester United Lukaku rather than the one that was at Inter Milan. Tuchel has alluded to the fact he wants him to train harder, work harder.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

“I think Chelsea will have been amazed those comments came out this week. I think it would have stunned them. Tuchel, because of his Champions League success is in a position of strength. You’re never in a position of total strength here but he’s done a brilliant job. I do think the players respect them. Those words will have hurt this week and will have hurt his team-mates.

“What I’m looking for now from Lukaku isn’t a sorry. I don’t think he can say sorry, if he’s told the truth as brutally as he has all he can do is make this relationship transactional and say, ‘I said what I said, I stand behind what I said, in hindsight I should have kept it to myself but I guarantee you I’ll give you my all for the next 3-4 years of my contract because there’s been a large investment into me’.

“What I don’t want to see this week is some sort of, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I love this club’. That’s not going to wash. He’s told the truth, we appreciate it but it’s difficult to unravel the truth when it’s as brutal as what Lukaku has said. He has to now somehow try to win his way back into Tuchel’s plans. The fans have to accept him – and I think they will if he carries on playing and he does what he’s been doing.

“Win matches for the football club and the fans will be won round. But it does become, rather than a love story, a transactional relationship.”

Carragher: Lukaku has done this at every club he’s been at

Jamie Carragher agreed with Souness that Lukaku’s comments came from a dented ego, with the striker frustrated at not immediately coming back into Chelsea’s starting XI after his lay-off.

However, Carragher says Lukaku falling out with people at clubs is becoming a recurring problem.

“The problem I have with it is Lukaku has done this at every club he’s been at,” said Carragher. “He’s not shy in doing an interview and dropping a few hints about him not being 100 per cent happy.

“He’s had a lot of clubs already throughout his career. This is a guy who scores a lot of goals at every club he’s been at. And he still doesn’t leave on the greatest of terms. That’s always a slight problem: the interviews he gives.

“He’s trying to curry favour with the Inter Milan fans because he’s got a lot of criticism from them.

“He’s come in as the guy who can take this team to the title. This is what [Chelsea are] lacking, a really great centre forward. And he started the season really well. He then got injured and Chelsea actually, in terms of the level of football they were playing it was slightly higher, and the team scored more goals when Lukaku was out.

“The fact he didn’t go straight back into the team was a problem for him. But Tuchel is the manager of a group of players who were all very expensive, not just Lukaku. Don’t forget Kai Havertz, who maybe takes his place as a false nine – he scored the winner in a European Cup final last season. He cost £75m himself.

“There’s a lot of big players at Chelsea. But he’s thought ‘I’m the main man at Chelsea’ and it hasn’t quite materialised with the way he’s come back from injury.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Tuchel backed in player power battle

The move to drop Lukaku against Liverpool was a bold one with so much on the line and could prove costly for Tuchel with Chelsea now facing an uphill battle in the title race.

But Carragher says that, despite Chelsea’s history of changing managers frequently, Tuchel may actually be in a stronger position than some of his predecessors given his calibre and the alternatives currently available – and that the club may back him over Lukaku in the long run.

“I admire what Mikel Arteta has done with Aubameyang and in some ways I admire what Thomas Tuchel has done here,” he said.

“In the past [at Chelsea] the players have always won against the manager. Right now, I think in terms of top managers in world football, I’d say there’s a dearth of them.

“We’ve got three in the Premier League – Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Tuchel. But look at the problems Man Utd are having right now in terms of their managerial situation. They still don’t know who they’re going to get at the end of the season or who is out there who can compete with these three.

“Right now, for Chelsea, even though they’ve had great success changing managers over the last 10-15 years, I actually think it may be easier to replace Lukaku than the manager they’ve got. They’ve got a top-class manager right now.”

The best thing Lukaku can do is not give interviews anymore because it’s just bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

Former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was also very critical of Lukaku’s behaviour and reckons Tuchel’s firm line with the player is as much about showing the world Tuchel’s own principles as it is about the situation at Chelsea.

“Tuchel is making this decision for him [Tuchel],” said Hasselbaink. “Forget about Chelsea: this is how he manages.

“He can get the sack from Chelsea but this is about Thomas Tuchel. ‘These are my principles, this is how I want my players to behave and I give them rope and freedom and there’s some stuff I will accept and some not. I’m not accepting this’.

“The best thing Lukaku can do is not give interviews anymore because it’s just bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad. I like Romelu. I think he’s a magnificent player. When he’s playing he gives Chelsea a different dimension. But what he has said and how he has said it, I don’t understand that.

“It’s fine having frustration you’re not playing. And how you react with that is coming into the Aston Villa game and making the difference.

“To spit your dummy out after four matches and say you want to go back to Inter because they have sorted you out when you came from Man Utd… If you really wanted to stay at Inter, say ‘I’m not going to Chelsea, give me half my wages and I’ll stay’. Because we all know he had to leave Inter because they were in financial trouble. That doesn’t happen does it?

“But you’re here now and what he’s done is really disrespectful.”