Inter will sign Lukaku from Chelsea on a season-long loan deal. Here, Jyotirmoy Halder tries to come up with the potential ups and downs of this unanticipated loan move.
From being nine goals shy of winning the golden boot in the Premier League in the 2016/17 season to leaving Chelsea after just one season upon his return to his childhood club, Romelu Lukaku has etched some memorable moments, both in a good and bad sense over the last few years.
Following that stellar Premier League season where Lukaku garnered 25 goals—which resulted in him being only second to the leading scorer Harry Kane in the respective chart, Manchester United came calling for his services and shelled out a fee of around £90 million (including add-ons) in the summer of 2017. It was not a small figure, and Lukaku returned the favour by notching up 16 goals from 34 league matches in his debut season at Old Trafford.
The sacking of Jose Mourinho in December 2018 saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrive at the club as an interim manager. Soon after his team’s miracle against Paris Saint-Germain (where Lukaku played a significant part), the Norwegian was offered a permanent job. He accepted the lucrative proposal and reportedly told Lukaku that he would have to play as a right-winger in his team. Baffled by the prospect of a bulky forward running down the wing, the Belgian left Manchester United to join Inter the next year.
The so-called “Red Rom” paired with Inter’s Lautaro Martínez to constitute the “Lu-La” duo, which became famous in Italy and then globally at the end of the campaign, with the Belgian scoring 23 goals in his first season and 24 in the second, respectively. In both circumstances, Luaku ended up playing 36 games, denoting that he was making a steady improvement in the top tier of Italian football.
Chelsea’s interest, coupled with the departure of Antonio Conte at Inter, persuaded Lukaku’s thoughts, leading him to re-join Chelsea, where he had previously failed to impress as a youngster pursuing stardom. The general feeling among the supporters of the Blues was that the marksman, who had left Chelsea for Everton, had changed and that they would get to see a rejuvenated Lukaku taking the English league by storm.
But, as time started doing her tricks, the gulf lying between the anticipation and reality became apparent, with the forward amassing only eight goals from 26 appearances, which resembles the number of senior appearances made by Antwerpen-born in his first Premier League season at Chelsea.
After his cryptic comments about his vivid love for Inter, the situation caught fire, with remorse in the Chelsea fan base asking for the termination of the player’s contract. But as it is not a video game, Lukaku, despite being fined for his controversy-provoking deeds, stayed put, but his playing time under Thomas Tuchel, who had shown the utmost faith in the superstar at the time of signing him, gradually took a hit. One evening, Lukaku texted Simone Inzaghi to convince him. The striker was seeking a return to Inter.
One could call him lucky because Lukaku has now got what he wanted, the elusive return to Inter. Chelsea, who signed Lukaku permanently last summer for a club-record transfer fee of €115 million, have now agreed to let him leave on a season-long loan for a reported €8 million plus bonuses. Now, it is common knowledge that every deal that goes over the line has several advantages and disadvantages. Without making further ado, let’s discuss those.
Lukaku is back
Who wouldn’t want to see Lukaku come back and don the black and blue once again? Well, the Inter fans might’ve started throwing away the newspapers after reading those “baseless” reports of a reunion. But, the time has come to leave the chair and wash the eyes as their dream just awaits an official hallmark before revealing its true colour.
Other than the members of the Curva Nord, every enthusiast of the Italian club seems content with the return of the “Big Rom” to his preferred destination. In the two seasons where Lukaku was an Inter player, the Belgian accumulated a total tally of 47 goals in Serie A. In any league of the world, it is an outstanding number depicting Lukaku’s prime game.
And following the disaster at Chelsea, the striker will also be looking forward to lighting the Italian league from the very first day, making it a seductive prospect for the Inter fanbase, and not so for the rivals. With the return of Lukaku, the Lu-La tandem will be back in action.
Inter outsmarted Chelsea
Known for manhandling other clubs in the market due to their stout financial muscles, Chelsea got outsmarted by Inter in this instance, which showcases how cunningly Beppe Marotta and his men have progressed to get success in what was previously understood to be an impossible operation. Thanks to that, Inter have got their desired transfer target in return for pennies (€8 million plus add-ons).
One year ago, Inter shifted Lukaku for an eye-watering amount of €115 million. Lukaku, who will turn 30 before ending his current loan spell with Inter, secured a rise in wages while penning a deal with the Blues and then had to take a massive pay cut to ensure the return, making one think how desperate both Chelsea and the player were to guarantee a separation in the summer.
Now, if we dissect the deal from Chelsea’s point of view, the Londoners paid Inter a ridiculous amount of money for the permanent services of Lukaku just to keep him for one season. It somewhat appears as if it was Chelsea paying the money for a season-long loan, no?
Although Lukaku has a contract at the London-based club until June 2026, it is extremely unlikely that he would spend another season there. A permanent departure from the Stamford Bridge, despite it not being mentioned anywhere in the terms of the current loan move, seems imminent. And it would be rather irrational to assume that the Premier League side could rescue the money spent on the arrival of Lukaku. While Chelsea will look at that transfer with teary eyes, the Nerazzurri camp will be listing new names for shopping with the money that Lukaku’s transfer to Chelsea had brought.
A shot at revival and boost to Inter’s hopes for Scudetto
What is apparent from this loan move is that there will be one player taking the field for Inter next season to prove himself. And that is none other than Romelu Lukaku. He had joined Chelsea with the same intention of proving the critics wrong. Well, he drastically failed in his endeavour there.
Even then, Chelsea would have kept the player for another season and their supporters would have continued to back the striker had not the comments of him being interested in moving back to Inter gone viral and turned the majority of the fanbase against him. The deal did not happen under normal circumstances.
Chelsea, who started the campaign as one of the favourites for the Premier League title, got an additional push from the arrival of Lukaku. They had previously seen the struggles of Timo Werner in front of the goal and desperately needed someone like the Belgian, or it is what they had thought. Now, some of them identify Lukaku as the reason their club lost motivation and finished the Premier League 2021/22 campaign in third place.
If you were Lukaku, would not you be motivated enough to change the perception of the fans? Perhaps convincing the Chelsea devotees is not possible anymore. But there is a real purpose of getting Inter back to the top of the Scudetto race next season.
There have been rumours that the bonuses that Chelsea have chosen to include in Lukaku’s loan deal will be triggered only if Inter lift the Serie A title. Lukaku’s determination to do well means that Inter will bear the ultimate fruits. It is a toss where both ends of a coin have Inter’s logo embedded. Whether it is a head or tail, Inter will walk out of this deal as the winners.
Lukaku is back but for how long?
It is a question devoid of a concrete answer. Reports have issued no mention of an option or an obligation to buy in Lukaku’s deal, hinting at the possibility that it could be a dry loan. Now, there have been claims of Inter trying to renew the loan next summer. But that will depend on how the reunion pans out in the 2022/23 campaign.
It would be safe to say that Inter will not be interested in shelling out the amount that they made Chelsea pay while shifting the former West Bromwich Albion striker. However, Chelsea will be determined to sell Lukaku’s permanent rights at a high price, with them intending to minimize the losses. Now, if Lukaku ends up having another promising season for the Nerazzurri, European heavyweights such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and maybe another Premier League side could take notice of the player.
An offer that is better than that of Inter and satisfies the demand of the Stamford Bridge faithful could see Lukaku moving to a different club next summer. It will certainly put Chelsea back in the limelight as they could avoid the likelihood of being Inter’s hostage. If we strike a similarity between the situation of this hypothesis and the cold war, Chelsea could come out of this mess with a moral victory against Inter.
A dry loan deal could act as a double-edged sword for Inter. Chelsea could see them as a platform where Lukaku could get an audition. And after that, the parent club of the striker could benefit from his performances in the next summer transfer window by offering the player to the interested parties at a much higher value. Inter have certainly won the first part of the psychological battle, but not the war.
Could he rerun the Conte time under Inzaghi?
Since entering the professional circuit, Romelu Lukaku has played under 14 managers in total. Do you know under how many of them he has passed the mark of 50 goals? Only two. The list includes Antonio Conte (who was Lukaku’s manager at Inter) and Roberto Martínez (the striker’s boss at the Belgian national team). For Conte, Lukaku has played 95 games and scored 64 goals. For Martinez, the same player racked up 61 goals from 126 games. We could come to a conclusion from this that it was Conte bringing out the most lethal version of the striker.
Now, let’s focus on his numbers under Thomas Tuchel. Having played 43 matches under the German, the sharpshooter found the net 14 times, which doesn’t reflect his finest form. Last season, there were reports suggesting that Lukaku had advised Tuchel to change his formation. The striker reportedly wanted to play in a two-forward system, the same he would play under Conte at Inter. But Tuchel stuck to his philosophies and never changed his 3-4-2-1 formation. Now, if playing as a solo target man defines a vulnerability of the striker, he could struggle again with Inter under Simone Inzaghi.
Since becoming manager of the club, Inzaghi has kept Conte’s fundamentals intact but has also made a couple of tactical tweaks here and there. Nowadays, Inter’s forward line is more dynamic. Joaquin Correa, Lautaro Martínez, and Edin Džeko were seen continuously dropping in the midfield during the build-up to orchestrate the team’s attack. Operating in that deeper role, where a player could be chased down by his opponents in a blink of an eye, was Lukaku’s one of his notable drawbacks at Chelsea. He got dominated by the opposing defenders and midfielders in the Premier League.
Lukaku has not played a single game under the management of Inzaghi, although the player left Inter last summer after the arrival of the former Lazio manager. So, it is hard to understand how they could work together. But they know each other and have supposedly shared one of two thoughts over the player’s potential role at the club. But it remains to be seen how those thoughts and plans get materialised in the field. Nevertheless, there is always a risk factor under a new manager.
What is next for Lukaku’s deputies and Paulo Dybala?
The most significant query that Inter need to address now is the situation regarding the players signed as replacements for Romelu Lukaku last season. What is their future at Inter, if there is any? The first on the list is Edin Džeko, who has one year left in his contract at the club. Džeko signed for Inter on a free transfer and registered 13 goals from 36 appearances in his first season. The former Manchester City star, at the age of 36, has proved to be an important addition to Inzaghi’s ranks. But now, his future notices the black clouds of uncertainty.
Rumours have already suggested that he could part ways with Inter this summer, with clubs from UAE reportedly interested in taking him on board. On the other hand, Lukaku’s return could have a counter-productive impact on the career of Correa, who had a decent role in leading Inter to two trophies in the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia last season.
Considering that Inter will terminate Alexis Sanchez’s contract, Correa could be told to play the role of the deputy for Lukaku. In the 2021/22 season, the Argentine did not play every game, but neither did he start every game from the bench. Furthermore, Lukaku might not prefer sharing his minutes with the former Sevilla striker. Inzaghi will have to give this puzzle a deep consideration before coming to a decision.
There is also a hidden feeling that Lukaku’s return could end Inter’s interest in Paulo Dybala, who was considered a priority a few months ago. Dybala will leave Juventus on a free transfer this summer as his contract with the Bianconeri comes to an end. Milan have made first contact with the entourage of the player, with Roma also keeping tabs on the situation.
But it is Inter leading the pursuit at the moment. Over the last few months, continuous negotiations have put the Nerazzurri in a favourable position. But are now they driven enough to get the deal of Dybala over the line? If not, they could commit a huge blunder by rejecting La Joya, who could be a permanent signing, unlike Lukaku, whose destiny at Inter still remains in Chelsea’s hand.