Romelu Lukaku was Chelsea’s blockbuster signing in 2021, but for many now, it will feel the Blues didn’t complete the transfer they expected.
Following his £97.5 million return to Stamford Bridge, the Belgian striker said: “The dream is reality now.”
There’s no reason to necessarily doubt that with the former Inter Milan striker being a boyhood fan with unfinished business. However, the past 24 hours serve as a reminder to any football fan that situations are nuanced.
The complicating factor now appears to be that Lukaku has plans to return to the San Siro.
He told Sky Sports: “I really hope with all my heart to be able to return to Inter one day and not at the end of my career. I would like to return when I am still at high levels to try to win even more with the Nerazzurri shirt.”
The 28-year-old signed a five-year deal with the Blues in the summer, and while elite strikers like Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo are sustaining their abilities into their mid-30s, it is difficult to know that Lukaku will still be at the peak of his powers at 33.
Not even six months into his deal, it damages Chelsea’s negotiating position and leaves Marina Granovskaia to begin a succession plan earlier than most would have hoped. The Blues were always unlikely to recoup their vast outlay on the forward, but the stark realisation when one party loves the other more is often a difficult pill to swallow.
In essence Lukaku was honest, and he has every right to state his position on his future, but the club and supporters also have the right to be disappointed and frustrated with the timing.
The comments that consumed social media, are perhaps just a tad more problematic however. The presentation of them may have been unfair but the noise created was inevitable.
Lukaku said of his position at Chelsea: “However I cannot say that I am happy with the situation, this is normal. I think that Tuchel has chosen to play with another module and I just have to not give up, continue to work and be a professional.”
At a rate of knots quicker than Roberto Di Matteo’s FA Cup Final goal, social media was aghast. Opinions were formed and very few were kind to Lukaku and swarms of people launched to the defence of Thomas Tuchel.
Context tempers the meaning somewhat when you acknowledge the interview was three weeks ago when Lukaku’s return from injury was being carefully managed with Tuchel wary of allowing his record signing to play 90 minutes.
The words are understandable and as fans of football we often crave players not to sanitise their personalities and Lukaku has been unabashedly honest. But even the kindest interpretation would suggest some moments of the interview have been naive
As Tuchel noted in his press conference: “He is an experienced player and he should know what kind of value it has when he speaks out with messages like this.”
There is clearly an attempt for Lukaku to repair his relationship with those Inter fans who took umbrage with his departure in the summer, but even the smallest hint of criticising Tuchel seems unsavoury.
Discussions have taken place between fans over how to get the best of Lukaku, no doubt, but the ex-Manchester United and Everton star knew the system he was entering.
After signing in the summer Lukaku said: “We have a certain type of playing style here. I don’t have to adapt too much as with the national team we play in the same system. I will adapt to find a way to help the team.”
The combination of his frustration and his love for Inter, certainly makes it easy to convey an environment in which Lukaku might want to depart, but the forward knew the situation he was arriving into. It’s easy to see why a fanbase may jump to a coach’s defence who helped land the Champions League.
Is Lukaku truly unhappy? Not on the evidence Tuchel has seen on the training field.
Will he be fined? Tuchel would only say the matter will be dealt with behind closed doors.
In football you cannot afford to be easily offended, and it’s probably even likely that Lukaku will lead the line against Liverpool. It’s impossible to see the Belgian departing in January and hopefully he can continue his return to goalscoring form.
Tuchel dealt with the issue well in his press conference. The German coach was measured and expressed his frustration, and he is sure to be the same in his conversation with Lukaku.
Tuchel told reporters: “We don’t like it, of course, because it brings noise that we don’t need and is not helpful.
“But on the other side, we don’t want to make more out of it than it actually is. You know very well how it is: it’s very easy to take lines out of context, to shorten lines to make headlines, then realise later it’s not so bad or what he meant.”
In essence, hopefully Lukaku’s interview will change little in how the club moves forward. The terms of engagement have changed however, and the jubilation that surrounded his return to Stamford Bridge has changed.
Even long-term deals are temporary and Lukaku is entitled to think of his future, though it perhaps could have been delivered in a less chaotic way for Chelsea.
It just serves as another reminder that nothing lasts forever in football.