Well, it looks like Romelu Lukaku wants to leave Chelsea to return to his beloved Inter and the Serie A. Who could have seen this coming?
Anyone, honestly anyone after the first month of Premier League action.
In a move that has surprised barely anybody, Lukaku is in talks with Inter Milan to finalize a return to the club that he has played the best at. For the player, this is the best possible move for him, but for Chelsea, this is yet another number 9 that has been cursed by the club.
When Lukaku returned to Chelsea in the summer, fans were excited to see the Serie A’s most prolific scorer be added to their Champions League winning side. However, with clearer hindsight, it becomes clear that this move was likely poisoned from the beginning. Ultimately Lukaku never fit in at Chelsea, as the club failed to win any real silverware.
On his best days, Lukaku can rival any top striker with his eye for goal mixed with incredible physicality making him a unique threat. Tuchel is an excellent manager whose strategy is proven to be successful and is rarely strayed away from. Given the talents of both men, it’s hard to discern who is completely to blame, but it’s probably a mixture of both.
Someone somewhere has placed a curse on strikers who don the jersey of Chelsea, as it seems every single one of them fails to catch fire. Unfortunately for Lukaku, he was unable to break that curse and will join the likes of Álvaro Morata and Radamel Falcao in Chelsea’s folklore.
Plenty of people, including this writer, thought that Lukaku was going to be a smashing success given his immense success in Italy. With Chelsea as the champions of Europe, it seemed like this was the perfect pathway to domination for them.
To be perfectly honest, it always seemed that Lukaku would have preferred to stay at Inter with the club reviving his career. Fresh off a golden boot win and Serie A title medal, Lukaku was destined to join the elite list of Inter strikers who have won at all. Despite leading the Milan side to the Serie title, the club quickly shipped him and Achraf Hakimi out of the city due to the club’s terrible finances.
Most people would be confused to see their club sell off two of their most important players fresh off a title win. However, those people aren’t familiar with the state of Italian soccer.
Basically, unless you’re Juventus, there’s a 70% chance that you will face financial issues that could cripple your club in a decade. This is due to so many different things, from the state of the Italian economy to the lack of lucrative TV deals. Having avoided financial troubles for a few years, Inter’s time came up and they had to get a return on some players and so Lukaku was sacrificed despite his wishes.
Meanwhile, in London, Chelsea was fresh off a Champions League title where Tuchel’s side had practically zero support from their strikers. At face value, seeing the lack of productivity from any striker, it makes sense why Chelsea snapped up a mercurial talent like Lukaku.
However, Tuchel’s side never really needed a lethal striker, as his sides have always demanded a center forward that is more of a playmaker that can defend. For example, Chelsea won the final by pushing midfielder Kai Havertz up and allowing him to operate in space his passing created. There was also the fact that the club already had Timo Werner, who they had spent a fortune on as well.
From the onset, it was an awkward marriage between a striker that never seemed to fully want to be there and a successful team that didn’t really need an extra forward. Hindsight is 20/20, but it should have been more clear at the time that the odds of this transfer succeeding were low.
The blame game is both fun and futile, nothing can change what happened but fans can drive each other to the verge of insanity with different theories. Despite the situation being ruined on both ends, it feels like Tuchel and the club should face the majority of the blame.
It’s true that Lukaku has a terrible first touch and has struggled in the Perm since his Manchester United days. Some will argue that the Serie A is easier than the Prem, which is both true and not, the defenses in the Serie A are better but the quality of players is higher in the Prem. However, Lukaku’s talent is clear and undoubted, so the blame isn’t solely on his shoulders.
Chelsea’s transfer policy under Abramovich has been a combination of incredible scouting and vibe checking. That scouting has delivered them players like Drogba, Hazard and Kanté, earning their transfer department their fair share of awards. And credit where it’s due, Chelsea has a solid scouting team that unearths talented players.
At the same time, Chelsea has often signed players based on nothing but vibes, for example if that player came off a title victory or an impressive performance on the big stage. It’s how you get Chelsea signing players like an Álvaro Morata or a Danny Drinkwater. Lukaku fits in with those players, as the club saw his impressive numbers and said screw it, let’s try this out.
Tuchel not finding a way to fit in the club’s star acquisition is both insane and tactically logical, existing in a quasi twilight zone. To first look at the tactical side, it’s true that Lukaku doesn’t fit the mold of a Tuchel striker, as he has always preferred playmaking forwards who come to the ball. It is insane that the club would sign a player that is so at odds with what their manager wants.
However, if Tuchel really is the world class manager that his supporters have claimed, then he needed to have found a way to maximize Lukaku. For periods of time, he would yo-yo Lukaku’s involvement, benching him one week and then starting him the next. The impetus is on the manager in this case to find success for the player that the club spent a fortune on.
At the end of the day, Lukaku is just a player, who can only control his actions on the pitch. The manager and club have the majority of the power in this relationship and ultimately failed the player and each other.
Lukaku’s return was a weird gamble from the minute that his return was announced, as it was such a boom or bust bet. Less than a year later, Chelsea seem destined to lose such a large acquisition with no silverware to show. Maybe this will teach them to be more cautious with their transfers, but this is Chelsea after all, so who knows.
Featured image: PA Images