Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Romelu Lukaku made it clear he missed everything about Inter after a disastrous spell at Chelsea.
Back at the club he loves on a season long loan, the experienced striker looks a picture of contentment. Embraced by his old teammates, new coach Simone Inzaghi and even the subject of a remarkable Lord of the Rings fan video, it’s been a remarkable turnaround for the high-profile attacker.
There are few better examples of the perfect fit for club and player than the Belgian striker and Nerazzurri. He will once again lead from the front for Inter as they aim to regain the Scudetto from arch rivals Milan this season.
It seemed improbable that Lukaku would be back wearing the iconic black-and-blue after a mind-boggling club record €113m move to London last August. The former Manchester United striker departed for the Premier League as one of the most feared strikers in Europe, a Serie A winner at the peak of his career.
Yet everything unravelled in a tumultuous campaign marked by a drastic loss of form, a notorious interview and public apology and a fractured relationship with coach Thomas Tuchel as he failed to adapt to Chelsea’s ultra-high pressing system.
Lukaku packed more drama into a single campaign than most run of the mill Netflix thrillers, despite positive signs in the early episodes of his Blues return. He initially expressed his delight at re-joining the London club 10 years after arriving in England as an 18-year-old, calling it the chance of a lifetime.
Lukaku admitted pushing through the move and angered Inter fans with his willingness to go back to Chelsea. It all began well, too. Lukaku scored on his league debut in a two goal away win at Arsenal and then struck twice in a 3-0 rout of Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.
Yet the situation deteriorated quickly. The powerful striker stopped scoring and was no longer the focal point he had been at Inter. Injury and Covid further derailed an already worsening situation.
Clearly dispirited, Lukaku took the step of making his dissatisfaction public. Not one to hide behind hollow, perfunctory social media statements, the attacker made several stunning declarations in an incredibly revealing interview with Sky Sport Italia last December.
In a triple whammy of revelations, he stated he wasn’t happy with his role, Tuchel’s choice of formation and vowed to return to Inter in prime condition rather than at the twilight of his career. Cue apoplexy from the Chelsea support and anger from the German coach. Tuchel labelled the comments as ‘unhelpful noise’ surrounding the club and even went on to say the striker rested himself during a game.
It would have been easy to issue a carefully worded, bland apology full of clichéd stock phrases, but Lukaku again opted to face the cameras.
Reasserting his commitment to the London club he said sorry, but nothing changed on the pitch. Out of favour and often an observer than a participant he claimed just five more league goals and an underwhelming 15 in total.
A shadow of the prolific marksman who dominated for Inter – netting 64 times in 95 games – Lukaku clearly pined for a return to San Siro. But insurmountable financial barriers looked set to scupper any potential deal. It was an indication of Lukaku’s desire to return that he took a pay cut to ensure an Inter homecoming.
While not all of the Nerazzurri ultras wholeheartedly agreed with the decision the player himself made his feelings clear. In his typically forthright way Lukaku publicly declared it was an error of judgement to return to Chelsea and that he communicated with Inzaghi and his old teammates throughout last season.
It is difficult to judge how much the chaos of last term affected the ex-Everton man. Reunited with strike partner Lautaro Martínez there is an understandable expectation the duo will pick up where they left off and fire Inter into immediate title contention.
Back in his adopted home city with a coach and teammates prepared to play to his strengths, there is every chance of a triumphant comeback. Regardless of what happens it will be fascinating to watch another chapter in the life of the never-dull Lukaku.