Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino said both sides must share the blame for the ongoing standoff between the club and Romelu Lukaku, with the striker's future no closer to being resolved.
Lukaku spent last season on loan back at Inter Milan, having returned to Chelsea two years ago for a then club record transfer fee of £97.5 million, after a disastrous season at Stamford Bridge which saw him fall out with then manager Thomas Tuchel.
The Belgium international, who has not played for Chelsea since May 2022, has not been given a squad number this season and has made clear his desire to leave.
But despite interest from Inter and Serie A rivals Juventus to take him on loan for the season, Chelsea have been unwilling to consider a temporary move and would rather he was sold, though they are keen to recoup as much as possible of the hefty transfer fee they paid.
Pochettino has only one recognised striker available for Sunday’s visit to West Ham, summer signing Nicolas Jackson, though the manager said he expects academy product Armando Broja to play a role this season once he has recovered from the ACL injury that has kept him out since December.
On Lukaku’s prospects of being reintegrated into the team, he said that nothing has changed since pre-season, despite the injury to summer signing Christopher Nkunku and the club’s failure to lure Michael Olise from Crystal Palace this week.
“The situation (with Lukaku) was clear before we arrived between the club and the player,” Pochettino said. “For us, there’s nothing to do.
“It’s not only one side. It’s two sides. It’s two sides to try to find the best solution. You cannot put it only on the club, the situation. It’s both sides. The situation is where it is because of two sides. It’s like when you have a player in or a player out. It’s because both sides arrive to an agreement.
“The situation is how it is, we cannot change. We were informed before we signed, the situation on every single player, and after we signed we had the squad we had. I think it is so clear, nothing changed. If there’s something to inform, the club will inform.”
Chelsea’s difficulty with strikers predates Pochettino’s arrival at Stamford Bridge.
The team struggled for goals last season, while former Arsenal and Barcelona forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was largely sidelined having been signed under Tuchel but considered surplus to requirements by subsequent managers Graham Potter and Frank Lampard.
He left to join Marseille in July but Pochettino has inherited the uncertainty surrounding Lukaku from his predecessors.
“For me I need to be focussed on the team,” he said. “To try to perform. We cannot spend energy on a situation that was clear before we started here.”
The manager also reiterated his objectives for the season that nothing short of qualification for the Champions League will be deemed acceptable.
Chelsea finished 12th last season and missed out on Europe for only the second time since 1996, but with £350m spent so far on summer recruits there is expectation from Pochettino that the gap to the top four must be closed quickly, with winning the Premier League title his next aim.
“My mind is to come back to Europe in the Champions League next season,” he said. “We cannot accept another idea (other than) to put the club in the position they deserve to be.
“If someone is thinking in this way, I would be very worried, in this training ground or in Stamford Bridge.
“Today it’s so early to think too much on this situation. The idea is to win the Premier League. If someone has a different idea, it’s better to tell us, and we’ll say maybe we’ll find some solution.
“If we can create and perform in the way that we expect from day one, that is a process that we need to build. The mentality needs to be to win and to expect to play in the Champions League and to win the Premier League. If not, we will fail.
“The challenge is to create the mentality that all is possible.”
Chelsea take on West Ham at the London Stadium on Sunday in their second game of the Premier League season aiming for their first win having drawn against Liverpool in their opener.