Soccer

Romelu Lukaku returns to Inter Milan to reclaim ‘King of Milan’ status and win another Scudetto

It was only 11 months ago that Romelu Lukaku left Inter Milan to join Chelsea for a world-record fee of €115 million. That was a defining moment in the recent history of both the club and the player. A few weeks after Inter won the Scudetto, Lukaku and then-manager Antonio Conte — who believed in him more than anyone else and made him a top striker — were both gone. The sudden departure left the fans speechless and angry, especially because right up until Lukaku’s move, he proclaimed eternal love for the club. What has changed since then? How did Lukaku convince Chelsea to loan him out back to Inter? 

The season-long loan was officially announced on Wednesday, so let’s take a look at how one of the most incredible transfer turnarounds in recent years came to pass. 

Lukaku’s first Inter Milan signing 

When Conte was appointed as Inter’s coach in May of 2019, he made a specific request for his new club to sign Lukaku. The striker was an obsession for the Italian coach, who wanted him when he was on the sidelines at Chelsea but failed to sign him. Conte’s desire for Lukaku was so strong that the relationship between club and manager started off a little rocky over transfer strategy disagreements because the club was a bit slow to sign the striker. Conte needed and wanted Lukaku. He was convinced he was the perfect player for his team alongside Edin Dzeko, who was the team’s other main target, but then ironically became the substitute of Lukaku when he left last summer. 

Romelu is like an American Football player applied to soccer,” Conte said later of the player. But the marriage almost didn’t happen. Things became quite tense when in the last week of July that year, Juventus met with Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello. Fabio Paratici, then the boss at Juve, wanted to include Lukaku in a swap deal with Paulo Dybala. It was only when Dybala refused to play in Premier League for Manchester United that things went awry. Had Dybala agreed to a swap, Lukaku would have been playing for Juventus. A few days later, Inter Milan finally agreed with Manchester United on a deal roughly around €75 million with bonuses included to get the player on a plane to Milan. 

Lukaku immediately became a hero among supporters, scoring 34 goals in 51 matches in all competitions, but failed to win in his first season. Inter lost the Europa League final against Sevilla and finished second in the league behind Juventus. In his second season, Lukaku managed to win his first Serie A title, scoring 30 goals in 44 matches and breaking an 11-year Scudetto drought in the process. His relationship with the coach, with the team and with the fans was special as he declared himself the “King of Milan,” a title which was especially apt given that he scored a pivotal goal against AC Milan. Everything seemed to be on the right track. On the pitch, he was a key player and the his partnership with Lautaro Martinez was just perfect. Their combinations were one of the main reasons why they managed to snap that Scudetto drought. 

Summer 2021

Things seemed to change from his perception when at the end of the season, Conte, the man who wanted him at Inter, decided to part ways with the club. Shortly thereafter, the club sold his friend and teammate Achraf Hakimi to Paris Saint-Germain. Inter Milan needed to sell him for financial reasons and one of the reasons why Conte left was because he didn’t want this to happen. At the beginning of June, while all this was going on, Lukaku promised to stay: “I spoke with [Simone] Inzaghi, I’m staying.” These words weren’t forgotten by the fans later in the summer. 

In July, Chelsea knocked on the Pastorello’s door and asked him if his client was keen to move back to England. Surprisingly, Lukaku said yes. Chelsea and Inter reached an record agreement for around €115 million to facilitate a move back to his “childhood club,” as he called it. Lukaku managed to meet his new coach Simone Inzaghi and trained with Inter for few days before the deal was finalized. He wrote an open letter to his Nerazzurri fans after days of silence, but they felt betrayed and never really accepted his decision after he broke his promise to stay.

The interview that changed everything

Lukaku moved, Inter signed Edin Dzeko and Joaquin Correa. Life moved on for Inter, but his spell at Chelsea didn’t start out well. The former Inter striker scored only three goals in Premier League matches between September and December, all of them in his first two matches. Besides the performances and the goals, his relationship with coach Thomas Tuchel didn’t improve and things reached a boiling point in December when Lukaku, without the authorization of Chelsea, gave an interview to Sky Italia. 

It was a shocking interview where Lukaku basically apologized to Inter fans for the way he left and promised to be back very soon. “It’s the right time to share my feelings. I have always said that I have Inter in my heart. I know I will return to Inter, I really hope so. I am in love with Italy, this is right the moment to talk and let people know what really happened,” he said. Although Lukaku expressed his desire to one day return, nobody could have imagined it would happen so soon this summer. Tuchel benched him for their next match against Liverpool and the relationship between Lukaku, Chelsea fans and the coach soured soon after that interview. In retrospect, that may have been the first move of Lukaku’s ultimate goal to join Inter Milan this summer. 

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Rom returns

Lukaku personally spent weeks working toward a comeback, including speaking with new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly to find a solution to this unexpected situation. He desperately wanted this comeback, even if — for now — it lasted a season via loan. Lukaku knew that the only way to change the minds of his former fans was to return and he did everything in his power to make it happen. He spoke with his club, with Inter, with all the parties involved and personally sent messages to his former teammates: “Wait for me, I’m coming back.” Inter fans are now dreaming again, despite what happened one year ago. Lukaku knows perfectly well that while he left and AC Milan won the Scudetto. His priority will be to bring the title back to the other side of the river and he will try to do it alongside Lautaro Martinez. The magic duo is now back together, and the fans can only dream again with them. You can catch Lukaku in action all season long on Paramount+.



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