In this new mini-series, Luka will be taking a look at a few players that Chelsea let go too early, and have gone on to become big players since. First up, it’s Romelu Lukaku.
Signed by Chelsea from Anderlecht in the autumn of 2011 for an initial £10m, Lukaku was seen as one of the hottest young strikers in Europe. The Belgian, who was 18 when he signed for Chelsea, began his career at Anderlecht and made his debut for the club at the age of 16.
His coach at Anderlecht, Ariel Jacobs, admitted in 2015 that he found it tough to handle such a special talent and spoke about how he managed Lukaku prior to the youngster making his professional debut.
“He was good but, still, there were question marks. By making that first selection, I was aware that I was taking a risk. Not for me as a coach, because you always take risks, but maybe for him because we were playing in the championship play-off in a difficult game away to Standard Liege”.
While at the club, he scored 41 goals in 98 games and won the Golden Boot in the Pro League in 2009-10, scoring 15 goals as he helped Anderlecht win their 30th league title.
During the 2010–11 season, Lukaku scored 20 goals in all competitions and as a result, a host of European clubs began circling for his signature. He was a striker who at 16, was already standing at 6ft 4in and weighing in at over 14 stone; any footballer regardless of his position, putting up the numbers Lukaku was, is a player that not many teams would pass up an opportunity to sign him.
When Chelsea eventually snapped Lukaku up from his native Belgium, it was a sign of intent from the Blues, who had already splashed what was then a hefty fee of £50m on Liverpool’s Fernando Torres to bolster their attack as they went in search of their 5th Premier League/First Division title.”
The move to London
Lukaku made his debut at Stamford Bridge in a 3–1 victory over Norwich City, coming on as a substitute for Fernando Torres. He followed his debut up with a starting appearance in a League Cup victory over Fulham.
Sadly, as has been the case with many Chelsea players in the past, Lukaku spent the majority of the season playing for the reserves and didn’t start his first Premier League match until May 2012 against Blackburn Rovers where he turned in a man of the match performance, providing an assist for John Terry’s opener.
Three months later, Lukaku was sent out on loan to fellow Premier League side West Brom, who needed a talented striker if they were to stay in England’s top division after an impressive 10th placed finish the season prior.
He certainly impressed during his time at the Hawthorns scoring 17 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions. His most memorable moment probably coming in West Brom’s 5-5 draw against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, where he scored a hattrick in the Scotsman’s final game in management.
Lukaku returned to Chelsea having outscored all of his Chelsea teammates in the Premier League that season, bagging 17 league goals, the sixth most in the division. Many thought that his loan was the perfect rehearsal to come back to the Bridge and stake a claim to be a starter for Chelsea, but instead, he was shipped out to Everton for the 13/14 season.
After 16 goals in 33 appearances on loan that campaign, Chelsea were willing to listen to offers for Lukaku and Everton made the Belgian’s deal permanent, paying a bargain fee of £28m to Chelsea.
It was at Everton where Lukaku truly proved himself as one of the top strikers in Europe. Many thought that he would struggle to really push on even further in a team that knew they wouldn’t be challenging the top teams in the league, but Lukaku proved everyone wrong yet again, scoring 18 league goals as Everton finished 11th.
Despite having the main man Diego Costa up front, seeing Lukaku perform so well away from Chelsea will have left a sour taste in the mouths of many Blues fans. The following season, Lukaku smashed his previous season’s total, finishing second in the Premier League scoring charts, scoring 25 goals, just four goals behind Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, with Everton ending the campaign in an impressive 7th place, their best finish since the 13/14 season when they came 5th.
A £75m move to Manchester United followed in July 2017, with rumours circulating that a return to Chelsea was on the cards the previous season, but the Blues opted to sign Alvaro Morata instead, and we know how that turned out.
From Merseyside to Manchester
Lukaku performed admirably in his first season in a red shirt, scoring 16 league goals as Manchester United finished 2nd, in what then United manager Jose Mourinho dubbed “one of the best achievements in his career”.
Mourinho’s sacking the following season in late 2018 saw former United cult hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enter the managerial fold and Lukaku suddenly stopped hitting the heights he reached the previous season. He was left out of Ole’s first two games in charge, but his substitute appearances in the next couple of games against Bournemouth and Newcastle saw him score within two minutes of coming on against the latter two opponents.
In short, Lukaku ended that season with a disappointing 15 goals in all competitions and when asked about his decision to leave, the Belgian was very honest about how he felt about the situation.
“I made my decision around March , and I went to the manager’s office and told him it was time for me to find something else. I wasn’t performing and I wasn’t playing. I think it was better for both sides to go separate ways. I think I made the right decision”.
Now at Inter Milan, Lukaku is proving himself to be one of the best strikers in the world on current form for club and country. Sometimes I look at Lukaku and think what could have been, but it’s not something I like to dwell on – and it is nice to see him flourishing somewhere where he is thoroughly enjoying himself.
Hopefully, he is able to maintain his current world-class form and cement himself as an Inter Milan legend. If they can knock Juventus off of the top spot for the first time in almost a decade then he stands every chance.
Written by Luka Foley @UOGLuka
Edited by Jai Mcintosh @jjmcintosh5