Romelu Lukaku only left the Premier League two years ago, but his performances for Inter Milan and history in England mean the stage is already set nicely for his return.
We love a good bit of narrative with our football in this country and Lukaku’s return to the top flight with his former club would be jam-packed with it.
The Belgian striker has been on the scene for so long that he is able to do something most can’t and make a comeback while still at the peak of his powers.
Lukaku is still just 28 years old. He is 20th on the all-time list of Premier League goalscorers with 113 strikes. Despite being absent in Italy for two seasons, of current players, only Jamie Vardy (118) and Harry Kane (166) are above him.
So, with Kane pushing to join Manchester City from Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund holding firm on Erling Haaland after losing Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, Chelsea have turned their attention to a player they know all too well.
Lukaku arrived at Stamford Bridge in August 2011 after Chelsea paid Anderlecht an initial fee of £10million for his signature, with add-ons taking it to £20m.
He made just 15 appearances for the Blues across the next three years, instead spending time on loan with West Brom and Everton, before sealing a permanent transfer to the Toffees for £28m in 2014.
Lukaku was there in the 2011/12 season when Chelsea won the Champions League and FA Cup, but took no pleasure from it.
He was frustrated with the lack of game time and suggested in an interview with the De Standaard newspaper in May 2012 that Chelsea were “just throwing money around” when they signed him.
Such an experience is not a unique one in football – and certainly not at Chelsea, where it has become almost a rite of passage in the Roman Abramovich era.
Yet strangely, if he does seal a blockbuster £100m move back to Chelsea, it won’t be at Stamford Bridge where he can right some wrongs.
That’s because Lukaku has more pressing unfinished business elsewhere in England.
After moving on from Chelsea to Everton – and continuing to plunder goals consistently – Lukaku was signed by Manchester United for £75m in July 2017. At the time it was seen as the perfect coming-of-age move for the 24-year-old.
“Romelu is a natural fit for Manchester United. He is a big personality and a big player,” trumpeted United manager Jose Mourinho upon his arrival.
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Yet, despite the huge transfer fee and excitement from his manager, things never really worked out for Lukaku at Old Trafford.
A glance at his statistics does not tell the story. Lukaku scored a more than respectable 42 goals in 96 appearances across two seasons for United.
He scored twice on his Premier League debut for the club and reached 10 goals in his first nine games to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of nine in nine.
Lukaku did not tail off either: he finished the 2017/18 season as United’s top scorer in the Premier League with 16 and in all competitions with 27. It was not his fault that the club finished as runners-up in the league and FA Cup.
The following campaign started brightly too, with four goals in his first five appearances, but things soon unravelled.
A 12-game goal drought coincided with Mourinho’s sacking in December 2018 and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign did not bring with it a change in fortunes for Lukaku.
Solskjaer sidelined the Belgian in favour of Marcus Rashford as a dismal 2018/19 season petered out with a sixth-place finish in the Premier League and disappointment in all other competitions.
Lukaku felt unhappy with his treatment by Solskjaer and with the constant criticism from fans. He informed the hierarchy that he wanted to leave and a £74m transfer to Inter Milan was quickly arranged for the summer.
Inter via Getty Images)
It has been a good change for Lukaku, who has banged in 65 goals in just 94 games for Inter and won Serie A, but the ill feeling towards United lingers.
Lukaku revealed his feelings in an extremely open interview with the LightHearted Podcast in August 2019.
He said: “I put my hand up. I don’t think I was the only one playing bad – a lot of people were. They have to find a culprit. If they want to put the blame on me, f*** it. I know what I’ve been through and this is just soccer.
“I’m here and playing, but at one point I will go. I’ll do something else. For me it was just s***. The team has so much potential to do great stuff. A lot of talent, but it’s not only talent, it’s about building a team.
“A lot of people don’t think I can be part of that team. For me, I’m just saying, if it’s like that, then we can go our separate ways.
“You guys can find someone who really fits the bill and I can go. They have to find somebody. It is [Paul] Pogba or me or Alexis [Sanchez] – it’s the three of us all the time.”
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Lukaku felt that United did not protect him from all the outside noise in the media and the public, leaving him with a feeling of not being wanted.
”A lot of stuff has been said where I didn’t feel protected,” he added. “I felt like a lot of rumours, ‘Rom going there’, ‘they don’t want Rom’, and nobody came out to shut it down.
“It was for a good three, four weeks. I’m waiting for someone to come out and shut it down. It didn’t happen.
“I had my conversation, told them it was better to go our separate ways. If you don’t want to protect somebody, all these rumours come out. I just wanted you to say ‘Rom is going to fight for his place’, but it never happened for four, five months.
“It was all, ‘he’s got to go, he doesn’t deserve to be there’. Well okay, then I want to go now. There is fighting for your position, but also being somewhere that people want you to be.”
Lukaku, who accused the club of leaking information to the press, says he told Solskjaer he wanted to leave in March 2019.
“Last year was difficult for me on the professional side, because stuff was not going how I wanted and I was not performing as well,” he told Sky Sports in January 2020.
“So I had to find it within myself what was lacking and came to the conclusion that it was time for me to change environment.”
Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Lukaku felt his exit was a “win-win” for both sides, with his departure allowing the club to focus on developing young players.
But Mourinho recently gave his typically critical perspective on the striker’s struggles behind the scenes at United.
“He needs to feel he’s the man and he’s the number one and loved,” Mourinho told talkSPORT in June.
“He was loved by the coach and supporters and make a big impact. The press also supporting him. He got that love.
“Romelu is the type of guy even scoring goals in England… was not the right profile of Manchester United. That hurts. If he doesn’t score goals what he does for the team is not enough. It hurts him.”
If Lukaku really was “hurt” by his two-year experience at United or not, Chelsea will give him the opportunity to get revenge on his former side.
One thing is certain: having plundered goals throughout his entire career, you wouldn’t bet against him scoring when Chelsea host United at Stamford Bridge on November 27.
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