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Tale of woe: Summing up Romelu Lukaku’s nightmare return to Inter

The curse of Chelsea’s number nine shirt has gone down in infamy with Premier League folklore. From Mateja Kezman to Fernando Torres — Radamel Falcao to Alvaro Morata, whoever seems to be burdened with the shirt’s responsibility has had a torrid time at Stamford Bridge, failing to recreate the form that earned them a move to west London in the first place. Romelu Lukaku is no exception.

The Belgian, who initially joined the club a decade ago when they were European Champions in 2012, was forced to wait in the ranks after leaving boyhood club Anderlecht, but the constant managerial merry-go-round during the Roman Abramovich era meant Lukaku could never nail down a starting place in the first team. Following successful loans at West Bromwich Albion and Everton he made a permanent move to Merseyside before a stint at Manchester United where he crumbled under the weight of his own expectations. 

On the surface, Lukaku looked like a perfect striker for José Mourinho at the time, but instead he was shipped to Inter Milan, where the Nerazzuri fell in love with the star striker. Blessed with great physicality and able to rebuild his fitness and confidence, Lukaku took to the San Siro like a duck to water, and having already hit 100 Premier League goals before the age of 26, took Serie A by storm. Having netted 64 goals in 96 games for Inter, as well as reach the final of the Europa League and winning Serie A, playing pivotal roles in both, he returned to Chelsea for £100 million, but now looks to be heading back to Lombardy with his tail between his legs just a year later.

It was a nightmare return to England, and Lukaku never received the level of love at Chelsea that he did at Inter, regardless of whether fans were in the stadium or not. Despite winning their second Champions League, Thomas Tuchel still heavily invested in his squad, with the 27-year-old looking to be the final piece of the puzzle. And things started brightly, albeit at an early stage of the season. With a draw at Anfield and comprehensive wins against Aston Villa and away at Arsenal, the Blues were the first team on many a football accumulator in the opening weeks, as they perused the title while Lukaku looked like one of the favourites for the Golden Boot. 

It’s hard to put into words just what went wrong for Lukaku, but he certainly didn’t help himself either. Returning from injury to lukewarm form, the busy Christmas period can be identified as the turning point in Chelsea’s season, and despite going on to reach the League Cup final and win the Club World Cup, their league form plummeted, coinciding with Lukaku falling out with Tuchel. He stated how unhappy he was in London in a third-party interview conducted essentially behind the club’s back and despite apologising you felt the damage was already done, with the German tweaking his system to incorporate Kai Havertz and Timo Werner more.

With just eight goals in 26 Premier League appearances, the signing of Lukaku has been a catastrophic failure. It will be interesting to see how the loan move — which will cost Inter an eight-million-pound fee for his services next season with no obligation to buy — will allow him to rediscover that goalscoring touch. The Italians were unable to retain their Scudetto, losing out to city rivals AC Milan, and although still strapped for cash, Lukaku could prove the difference maker next term, with the Belgian apologising for how he departed the San Siro.

‘I want to say a big apology to the Inter fans because I think the way I left should have been different,’ he said, having publicly declared his commitment to the club only to leave for Chelsea shortly afterwards.

‘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.’

Only time will tell if we see Lukaku in a Chelsea shirt again, but with a new era dawning on Stamford Bridge, both in terms of personnel and ownership, it seems highly unlikely. 

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