After an extremely impressive stint out in Italy with Inter Milan, a big confidence booster after a stuttering spell at Old Trafford, Romelu Lukaku looks a different proposition on his return back to the Premier League.
Impressive at the Euro’s too, not just using his strength but his skill on the ball to net a couple for Belgium, Lukaku is a reinvigorated man with a point to prove. With Chelsea off the back of an unlikely Champions League success, and an impressive opening day win over Crystal Palace, could Lukaku be the star-man for the club he so dearly cherishes?
Last time Lukaku transferred to Stamford Bridge, a starry-eyed youngster made his way from Anderlecht to Chelsea as a highly-tipped teenager ready to break through in the Premier League.
Turning professional at the age of 16 for Anderlecht, his height and stature far above his age, Romelu came into the building with a lot of promise after 33 goals for the Brussels-based outfit. Managed under Andre Villas-Boas, and then Roberto Di Matteo in the drama of the Bayern Munich Champions League win, Lukaku rarely got an opportunity to impress as an obviously talented 18 year old.
Not helped by a poor overall season for Chelsea, scraping sixth but helped by securing that smash and grab Champions League trophy, Chelsea obviously didn’t want to throw a young Lukaku into the mix when the Blues were falling below expectation. Like many youngsters coming through at Stamford Bridge, Romelu would have to get used with being discarded and placed out on loan to prove a point.
At both West Brom and Everton respectively, the Belgian youngster began to mature and showcase his real ability in a league where he hadn’t been afforded a real chance besides some bench cameos. Romelu was often used as an impact substitute for the Baggies, netting his first West Brom goal off the bench against Liverpool towards the start of the 2012-13 campaign. In the final home match of the season, Lukaku tore Manchester United apart at The Hawthorns – a hat-trick finishing off a impressive loan, securing an unlikely point in a 10 goal thriller. 17 goals with the Baggies, the Belgian eager to show the Chelsea hierarchy what they’d been missing.
Even still, Romelu was shipped out on loan once more and his Everton spell would prove to be his most impactful in the Premier League to date. Off the back of a 17 goal season, the big Belgian striker would see another quality season in the Premier League with 10 plus for the Toffees securing a permanent move.
Treated rather unfairly by the Chelsea hierarchy, zero goals in 10 for The Blues not exactly a flattering return in all fairness, patience might well have been the best tonic to deploy with the ex-Anderlecht teenage prospect. Even with 53 goals at the Toffees in a century of appearances, I imagine the teenager within Lukaku was still disheartened at not being able to score bags of goals up top for a club he clearly admired when leaving his native born Belgium behind in the first place. At least after maturing at West Brom and Everton, he bagged himself another chance to impress with a Premier League big boy – this time, coming in at Manchester United to be their main source of goals.
Yet, like his move to Chelsea, he wasn’t exactly joining the Red Devils in their most illustrious spell. Still a club in some sort of limbo after Alex Ferguson’s reign ending, and the David Moyes experiment falling flat, it might not have been the same Manchester United that previously conquered the top flight. Primarily managed under Jose Mourinho, Romelu became sort of a scapegoat in his spell at Old Trafford – clips of the Belgian failing to perfect skill moves and pass properly overshadowing an above average goal return. Again, however, Lukaku had seemingly failed to be that star striker for a massive club he so wants to be. It’s alright being the main striker for the likes of West Brom, but another mammoth club had passed the Belgian by.
Leaving behind Manchester for Milan proved to be the wisest move possible for Romelu, becoming an integral part of Inter’s rejuvenation under the Italian great Antonio Conte. Not only lethal on his own, goals galore scored up top with his Argentine strike partner Lautaro Martinez, people began to sit up and take Lukaku seriously again. Not that he unimpressed at Old Trafford, but his goal contributions at Inter propelled a side to a title win usually in the shadows in relative comparison to the force of Juventus.
Turning Serie A on its head, lifting the Italian top division for the first time in a decade, Lukaku was only second in the goalscoring charts to the juggernaut that is Cristiano Ronaldo. Therefore, after two seasons setting Serie A alight, and with a decade since featuring for the Blues as a slightly naive teenage sensation, it did feel the time was right to return as a reinvigorated 28 year old in his prime.
Clearly reinvigorated, it does feel the time is right for Lukaku to reenter the Premier League and translate this form into a division where he’s only succeeded at clubs outside the top four picture. With confidence sky high at Stamford Bridge, and Tuchel proving himself to be a world-class manager after Lampard didn’t quite work at The Blues, I can see Romelu firing Chelsea to a title challenge for sure. Manchester City look devoid of a striker option, cue Harry Kane transfer rumours, so I do think Chelsea have an advantage with this statement purchase of Lukaku. Firing on all cylinders in Italy, it will be great to see how Lukaku transitions. If he continues on from his Serie A best, he could well prove to be the star-man this season coming up for Tuchel’s already brilliant Blues.