A knowing smile comes across the face of Romelu Lukaku. There’s a little shift in his seat too. You sense he has been waiting for this question from the moment he sat down to speak with the media about his return to Chelsea.
The crux of it is this: does the striker, who is Belgium’s all-time top scorer, a Serie A winner, and the scorer of more than 100 Premier League goals, believe his talents are truly recognised and appreciated?
“At one point you just don’t fight against it,” the 28-year-old replies. “That is something I thought to myself when I went to Italy, ‘I’m out of this place where people see me as a certain type of player that I’m not’.
“I think going to Italy, and playing with the national team of Belgium, showed the world what I could do. Being with my back against the wall is something that I have experienced since my youngest age. It’s nothing new to me. It is what it is. I accept it.
“I do my work in training and on the pitch, whatever people are saying, let them talk. They have a perception. They don’t know me or the work of my performances.
“You do want your respect, but you don’t want to keep fighting for it because you’re going to lose unnecessary energy. I’m not really about that.”
It’s notable how at ease Lukaku is throughout his re-introductory press conference, which lasts more than 30 minutes. Every question posed is answered assertively and without hesitation. Nothing throws the 28-year-old.
By Lukaku’s own admission, he has matured over the last two years. His time at Inter Milan under Antonio Conte helped round out his game but also changed his mindset. Scoring goals was no longer enough, he wanted to win trophies.
The striker achieved that last term as he led Inter to the Serie A title, the club’s first in nine seasons. Yet with the Nerazzurri in financial strife, a move away was always possible this summer.
Chelsea made that happen. The Blues struck a deal with Inter worth around £98million, a club-record fee. After seven years away, Lukaku – a boyhood Chelsea supporter and a player who spent three years at the club between 2011 and 2014 – was finally back at Stamford Bridge.
“I was young and I don’t think I was as evolved as I am now,” Lukaku says. “My journey has had a lot of ups and downs but if you keep performing you will always get a chance. My relationship with the club has always been great and to be back is a good feeling.”
He added: “The experiences [gained during his first spell] were very beneficial. The basics I learned about work ethic and what it takes to win, I took those for the rest of my career.
“I went to another country and I won there and this club (Chelsea) kept being progressive, made sure they were winning trophies. For me, it was the right thing, the right move.”
The signing of Lukaku is viewed by many as a game-changer for Thomas Tuchel. The German coach made Chelsea highly effective following his appointment at the end of January but the lack of a reliable goalscorer was evident.
Lukaku solves that issue. He has scored more than 250 goals at club level, has another 64 for Belgium. He is a guarantee.
“I come back as someone who can hopefully help this team,” he says. “I have experienced success elsewhere and also a different playing style where it’s more technical-based and tactical. The Premier League has a bit of everything and the experiences I had a few years ago were great.
“I loved every minute of it but the experiences in Italy made me more complete as a player. Watching the Premier League over the last few years, the players have got better, the teams have got better and I am ready for the challenge.”
Lukaku’s ambition is simple: to win. Nothing else matters beyond that. He wants to secure further trophies, wants the acclaim and respect that the likes of Didier Drogba and John Terry received during their Chelsea careers following Premier League title wins, FA Cup success, and Champions League glory.
“It’s not about records, it’s about winning trophies,” he explains. “I’ve realised how different people’s attitude is towards you when you win something. That’s something that I’ve learned.
“In conversations I had with Didier Drogba or John Terry or Antonio Conte, the respect is different when you start winning. That was something I really wanted. I wanted to win so bad. I went to Inter and then we did. That’s the only thing that matters to me – winning.
“Scoring goals, yes, that’s beautiful. I know I am in a position where I can score a lot of goals. But winning trophies, that sets you apart.”
He continues: “If you win the Champions League, you have a very good team. The coach wanted something different to add to the team than what he’s got. I think I’m different from all the players that he has. But you have to put some respect on this team.
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“This team won the Champions League. That is the biggest trophy in club football so if you win the Champions League that doesn’t mean you are a bad team. They did it how they did it and credit to them.
“The only thing I’m doing is I’m coming and I will make myself available for the manager. Hopefully, we can work together and keep performing like we should.”
It’s impossible to escape the feeling Chelsea have gained the very best version of Lukaku. He has grown as a person and player over the past seven years, been moulded into an elite-level forward by his coaches and experiences away from Stamford Bridge.
All that’s left is for his detractors to realise that.