For much of the close season, 2020/21 UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea have been weighing up adding another top-end striker to their squad and their prays were answered as Romelu Lukaku returned to Stamford Bridge.
— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) August 8, 2021
Last summer, the arrival of Timo Werner and compatriot Kai Havertz were widely praised, but the pair struggled to get up to speed with the rigours of Premier League football. There’s no suggestion that the Blues are thinking of writing them off; far from it especially with regards to Havertz who has become a key figure at Stamford Bridge.
1000 – Timo Werner has scored his first Premier League goal for Chelsea in exactly 1000 minutes – since netting against Sheffield United in November – ending a run of 31 attempts without finding the back of the net in the competition. Relief. #CHENEW pic.twitter.com/1DaodRBhBU
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 15, 2021
Yet there has been a sense that the team needs an additional focal point to take some of the physical strain off their shoulders.
Romelu Lukaku has emerged as the heir to Drogba’s throne. His powerful all round display against Arsenal on his debut for Chelsea has left many in awe of the big striker. The 28-year-old Belgian international was snapped up by the Stamford Bridge club in 2011 after plundering 33 goals in 73 appearances for Anderlecht. Unfortunately for him and the Chelsea faithful, he had few opportunities to cement a first team place in West London. Successful loan spells with West Bromwich Albion and Everton saw him eventually move to the latter for what was then a club-record £28m fee for the Toffees.
— Fantasy Premier League (@OfficialFPL) November 28, 2016
Lukaku’s swashbuckling style soon saw him achieve hero status with the Goodison Park faithful, reaching new heights under Everton boss Roberto Martinez – now his international coach today with Belgium. His 53 goals in 110 appearances on the blue half of Merseyside eventually got him that ‘big’ move to Manchester United. It was only then that the Chelsea supporters started to question whether they had been too hasty in letting Lukaku go.
He averaged almost a goal every other game with the Red Devils too, which was no mean feat considering United’s squad was on the way down during the 2017-19 period.
The 6ft 3” centre forward then opted to try his luck in Serie A with Inter Milan and his time in Italy has been even more fruitful. 47 goals in 72 games have been the foundation for Inter’s title-winning season in 2020/21.
INTER’S LOSS IS CHELSEA’S GAIN
Unfortunately for Inter, the club’s financial difficulties mean that they were forced to cash in on Lukaku rather than tie him down to build a San Siro dynasty.
— Freddy Gaming (@brunoPsg3) June 26, 2021
The club lost $120m in 2020 alone and they are at risk of losing upwards of $250m by the end of this year too. With the club haemorrhaging money and no fresh injection of capital seeming likely anytime soon, player sales would appear to be the only option for Inter chairman Steven Zhang this summer.
Initial reports suggested that the Blues lodged a bid worth £85m for Lukaku’s services, which the Serie A champions declined. At the time of their refusal, Inter were confident that Lukaku wished to remain in Milan. However, the Belgian ace appeared to have had a change of heart and then voiced his wish to move back to Stamford Bridge and team up with Thomas Tuchel. In the end they signed him for £97 million.
AN UPGRADE ON THE DEPARTED GIROUD
Lukaku, is the the ideal replacement for French striker Olivier Giroud. The former Arsenal forward was often a bench option during his time at Stamford Bridge and he opted to leave for AC Milan this summer, leaving a Lukaku-shaped void to be filled.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) July 17, 2021
Chelsea were sniffing around Borussia Dortmund wonderkid Erling Braut Haaland for some time now, but the potential transfer fee is seemingly too rich even for Roman Abramovich’s pockets. Nevertheless, Lukaku provides the Blues something that Haaland simply couldn’t ever provide to the Chelsea forward line – ball retention. The likes of Werner and Havertz aren’t the kind of players that are equipped with the physical or technical attributes to hold up the ball with their backs to goal. They prefer to play between the lines or on the shoulder of the last defender. According to Tuchel, Chelsea needed a player that is “used to playing with their back to the goal”, which has seemingly allowed the Blues to “add this direct style of play to [their] portfolio”.
It’s clear that Lukaku himself believes he has unfinished business in the EPL, having failed to win the EPL title at Everton or Manchester United.
Some quarters of the Old Trafford faithful never fully took to the Belgian despite his impressive goalscoring output. It seems somewhat poetic that Lukaku will return to where it all began in English football, giving Chelsea fans an opportunity to adore him in his prime.
There is an additional benefit to signing Lukaku that most Chelsea supporters won’t realise. Lukaku has rejoined Chelsea, where he is regarded as a homegrown player, as per the rules of the Premier League. That’s because Lukaku spent three years at Stamford Bridge under the age of 21 years old. It’s a similar story in the Champions League, with the European champions able to field Lukaku as an ‘association-trained player’.
Lukaku is certainly underrated by many in footballing circles. However, when you strip back his career and look upon his achievements, it’s clear that the Antwerp-born powerhouse has been one of the finest forwards in Europe for some time. Already Lukaku is Belgium’s all-time leading goalscorer, with 64 goals in 98 caps. He also finished second top scorer in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, bagging the Bronze Boot.
It’s incredible to think that Lukaku cemented himself in the Anderlecht first team squad at the age of just 16. He would go on to notch 15 goals in the Belgian Pro League and finish as top scorer, helping Anderlecht to their 30th domestic championship. Despite having spent 12 years working his way to the very top of his profession, Lukaku still has at least five or six years left at the top table.
He’ll hope that in returning to Stamford Bridge he can finally get his hands on the EPL trophy and play a crucial role in the story of Thomas Tuchel’s dynasty.