The video of Romelu Lukaku’s first visit to Stamford Bridge remains on YouTube. As a boyhood Chelsea supporter and a 17-year-old who idolised Didier Drogba, he could barely contain his emotions as he stood by the side of the pitch.
“Give me a ball and I will play here for five hours,” Lukaku says in the documentary entitled ‘De school van Lukaku’ to his classmates. “What a stadium. If one day in my life I will cry, it will be the day I play here. I love Chelsea.”
The footage then cuts to Lukaku standing at the front of the East Stand’s middle tier. The teenager has fallen behind the rest of the school’s party, his gaze is still firmly on the pitch.
“You can dream on later,” a teacher tells Lukaku as he tries to coax him away. “Dreaming? I’m not dreaming,” the Belgian responds. “I’m going to play here someday. I’m sure.”
Those were not the words of a naively enthusiastic young footballer. They were a mission statement. And one year after that visit to west London in the summer of 2010, Lukaku joined Chelsea from Anderlecht in a deal worth £18million.
“I dreamed to play here since I was 10 years old. It was just what I was searching for,” he said. “I used to watch Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scoring goals and remember one against Manchester United, the volley at Old Trafford, and I decided I wanted to support this team.”
Lukaku was 18 years old when he signed for the Blues. Yet he already had two full seasons of senior football under his belt, and they were impressive seasons at that.
His first ended with 19 goals in all competitions and the Belgian Pro League golden boot, he was just 16 years old. Lukaku’s second resulted in him scoring 20 times and attracting interest from clubs across Europe.
Lukaku made his Chelsea debut during a 3-1 victory over Norwich City in August 2011. He played the final seven minutes and achieved his dream of playing at Stamford Bridge in front of a packed crowd. But further appearances were sporadic; he spent much of the campaign playing for the Development Squad.
For a player who’d already represented his country and played in the Europa League, it’s no surprise Lukaku wasn’t satisfied. Not even being part of the travelling party for the Champions League victory in Munich appeased the young Belgian.
“I don’t like people talking to me about the Champions League. It wasn’t me, but my team that won,” he told De Standaard newspaper in 2012.
“When [Salomon] Kalou put the cup on my lap on the bus I asked him to take it away immediately. I didn’t want to touch it because just as with the Champions League I had no part in it at all.”
Lukaku was in a hurry to realise all of his vast potential. So he pushed to go out on loan. First came a season with West Bromwich Albion in which he scored 17 goals. A year with Everton followed, as did a further 16 goals.
In the summer of 2014, Lukaku came to a crossroads at Chelsea. He could stay and attempt to force his way into Jose Mourinho’s plans, or he could depart for Everton permanently in a deal worth £25million. He ended up taking the latter option.
Lukaku’s reasons for making the switch to Goodison Park were as valid now as they were then: he simply wanted to play.
“I am very happy with the choices I’ve made,” he explained. “Sometimes things like this happen in football. Sometimes it’s not meant to be. Chelsea are a big club and when I arrived I was 18. I was very ambitious.
“They taught me how to be a professional, a work ethic and a winning mentality. It is a great football club. I wouldn’t say anything bad about that club but I didn’t want to be on the bench for 10 years.”
Lukaku spent three further years at Everton. He struck 71 goals in 133 appearances and established himself as one of the Premier League’s standout strikers.
Chelsea had their own during that period: Diego Costa. Yet when the combustible forward was told by Antonio Conte that he could leave the club in the summer of 2017, Lukaku was the obvious replacement.
A homecoming felt right. Chelsea, the Premier League champions, Lukaku the reliable Premier League goalscorer. Conte did his bit to convince the striker to return. The only sticking point was the negotiations between Chelsea and Everton. Talks dragged on.
“I was gone, I was going to Chelsea,” Lukaku said on the LightHarted podcast in 2019. “I was looking for an apartment, an apartment for my mum to stay in close to the practice facility, so I don’t have to drive too far. And then Man U came.”
United didn’t mess around. They submitted an offer to Everton worth £75million plus a further £15million in add-ons. Lukaku, meanwhile, spoke with Jose Mourinho and Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward about a switch to Old Trafford. They won him over.
“Antonio Conte wanted me bad, like bad bad, he wanted me when he was at Juventus in 2013,” Lukaku added. “We have a really good relationship, we have the same agent. His playing style, he needed me for his team.
“So he showed me analysis of the game, how he wanted to play, so for him, he won three Italian championships, he did a three-peat before he took the challenge up and one of the three-peats was unbeaten.
“So I was going to Chelsea and then Man U came through and when I felt the trust of everybody at Man U. And the stature and magnitude of the team, I felt like, ‘You know what? It’s too good an opportunity for me, everybody believes in me, it’s a good team, why not?'”
Chelsea were furious. Not with Lukaku, but with his then-agent Mino Raiola. The Blues haven’t done any business with the 53-year-old since, although relations have thawed between the pair over the past year in no small part because he represents Erling Haaland.
The club pivoted and instead signed Alvaro Morata. He lasted 18 months at Stamford Bridge. Lukaku, meanwhile, spent two seasons with Manchester United before he departed for Inter Milan, where he finally teamed up with Conte.
In Serie A, Lukaku has established himself as a world-class forward. The goals have continued – 64 in 95 games – but more importantly, his link play has improved, as has his off-the-ball work. He credits Conte for rounding out his game.
“For the first three months at Inter, Conte did nothing but train me with my back to the goal,” revealed Lukaku in a conversation with France Football in January.
“In each training, he would put [Andrea] Ranocchia behind me and asked him to go hard against me. Every time I lost the ball, we had to start the drill again.
“Sometimes you have to know how to work for the team, in all humility, without necessarily reaping the benefits directly, especially when you feel that it is not your day in terms of finishing.”
Conte’s departure from Inter at the start of the summer was expected to cause a ripple effect when it came to Lukaku’s future. After all, the Italian was a coach the 28-year-old stated he would die for.
Yet before the European Championship, Lukaku insisted he would remain at Inter given he is happy in Italy and settled at the club. And yet, Chelsea continue to lurk in the background.
Get the latest Chelsea transfer news straight to your inbox
The summer window is ramping up as the Blues are chasing some big name and big money targets, so we want to make sure you’re always in the know.
By signing up to the Chelsea newsletter here, you’ll be receiving the latest news and rumours directly to you, as well as exclusive articles and content from club writers Sam Inkersole and Adam Newson, plus a daily transfer round-up recapping the news and rumours all for free!
And if you want to take part in the debate in the comments and join in with the Q&As to get your questions answered, create an account here, because we want to hear from you too.
football.london understands the Blues have had two bids turned down for Luakaku this summer. A third, worth around £85m plus Marcos Alonso, was reportedly received by Inter yesterday. It was again rejected.
Chelsea are likely to bid again for Lukaku before the transfer window closes; the Belgium international is again top of the club’s agenda with a deal for Haaland viewed as virtually impossible. Inter’s resolve will be tested. Lukaku’s heartstrings will be tugged.
The striker has unfinished business with Chelsea. Yes, he achieved his ambition of playing at Stamford Bridge for the Blues, but the picture wasn’t quite right and it wasn’t supposed to be over in a year.
Things would be different this time around. Lukaku would be the star. He would be the club’s number nine. He would be adored by the Chelsea faithful.
Quite simply, he could have everything he dreamed about that summer’s day in 2010.
Do you want an exclusive pre-season Chelsea preview – both in your inbox and through your letterbox? Head over here to find out more and secure your copy!