Chelsea have agreed a loan deal with Inter Milan for the return of Romelu Lukaku to the Guiseppe Meazza following a nightmare spell back in England.
After arriving as one of the most feared strikers in European football having netted 64 goals in 95 games with Inter, the Nerazzurri will pay a fee of €8m (£6.9m) plus add-ons only 10 months after they received £97.5m for the striker.
That itself was a controversial exit from Italy when the Belgian international declared that he wanted to return to his ‘home’, a decade after he had originally joined Chelsea.
Having become the most expensive player ever in cumulative transfer fees, Lukaku has added his name to the list of star strikers who struggled to make their mark at Stamford Bridge.
A warm welcome by the Chelsea fans was followed up by an explosive start to his second spell when he netted only 15 minutes into his return game against Arsenal.
However, all the goodwill was soiled in an Ill-fated interview less than four months later when he revealed to Sky Italy:
“I really hope in the depths of my heart to return to Inter, not at the end of my career, but at a still good level to hopefully win more.”
The shocking comments were exacerbated by Lukaku’s failure to fit into Chelsea’s style of play – or at least the willingness to turn around his fortunes – and things came to a head when he recorded a total of SEVEN touches over 90 minutes against Crystal Palace, a record low in Premier League history.
The 29-year-old scored only eight times in 26 Premier League games last season and the reasons behind his incredible underperformance are vast and divide opinion.
Nevertheless, this immediate return to Inter is in the best interest of all parties as the move to Chelsea will go down as one of the worst transfer deals in Premier League history.
Simply put, Chelsea supporters are glad to see the back of him.
A tactical misfit
Although Thomas Tuchel’s side attempted more final-third passes, long passes, through balls and crosses compared to Antonio Conte’s Inter side in which Lukaku thrived, indeed, the key difference between both teams, is that Lukaku had company in Lautaro Martinez upfront in their 3-5-2 formation.
This system allowed Lukaku to take up positions through the middle and in the right channel, whereas he was stationed more centrally under Tuchel last season where he often had two attacking midfielders behind him.
The player has admitted in the past that he hates to play with his back to goal as a target-man, which is prejudice towards his tall and imposing physical appearance.
Additionally, Tuchel demands high-pressing and work rate off the ball from his forwards which unfortunately isn’t Lukaku’s strength.
“My role will depend on what the game plan is and what the boss wants me to do. If he wants me to be a focal point or if he wants me to attack the spaces in behind, I can do it.”
“The two years in Italy helped me master all the facets of the game for a striker and now I’m ready. I like the system that we play and I’m very flexible. I can play as a two or by myself and I’m used to the system because it’s what we play with the Belgian national team so I don’t need much time to adapt. It’s just knowing the strengths of my team-mates in important positions and knowing what we do off the ball, then I can do the rest.”
His words on his adaptability to any role on signing for Chelsea have now proven untrue. Yet he ended the season as Chelsea’s top scorer with 15 goals.
Is Lukaku a misunderstood marksman?
The ex-Anderlecht, West Brom, Everton and Manchester United man scored a debut goal for all the clubs throughout his professional career that has produced over 300 goals.
Belgium’s all-time top goalscorer is also the first foreign player to score 80 Premier League goals before the age of 24 while at Everton, and he is the 19th Premier League all-time goalscorer with 121 strikes. However, only 36 were scored in three seasons for Manchester United and Chelsea combined.
Further evaluation also reveals Lukaku delivered four goals and an assist against ‘Big Six’ rivals or elite UEFA Champions League opposition for the Red Devils and the Blues. Raising never-ending accusations of the striker being a flat-track bully.
Bullishly stating in 2021; ‘People have tended to describe things this way,’
‘When they talk about [Robert] Lewandowski, [Karim] Benzema, [Luis] Suarez, [Harry] Kane, they would say it’s world-class level and with me, it’s always about being in good form.
‘In the last two years I think I have shown it’s not just good form.
‘I belong with that group, I am at that level.’
Unfortunately, those levels were far from being maintained when he returned to then European Champions Chelsea in the most competitive league in the world. Lukaku will have to live with doubts over his world-class ability for the rest of his career.
Given an infamous history of public outbursts against his club and manager as seen at Everton, Man United and Chelsea, his mentality and attitude will continue to be questioned. For a player who has only the Belgian league, Serie A and the 2021 Club World Cup title to show for a goal-laden career, Lukaku’s doubters make a strong case.
For now, Lukaku, Chelsea and Inter will be happy to move on as the Londoners look to get their summer revamp under new ownership up and running.
In the long run, the opportunities at the biggest stage and what might have been from Lukaku’s career will remain a divisive topic of discussion.