Chelsea’s record fee leaves Mauricio Pochettino with an annoying Romelu Lukaku transfer issue
In August 2021 Chelsea spent £97.5million and thought they had landed the final piece of the jigsaw in finding a true goalscorer. Romelu Lukaku returned to Stamford Bridge in a club record fee to don the No. 9 shirt having set Serie A alight on the way to the title with Inter Milan and racked up 30 goals in 44 appearances.
The last time Chelsea had a player surpass 20 successful strikes was Eden Hazard in 2018/19. That remains the case, as Lukaku endured a difficult season in front of goal, participated in a controversial interview and struggled to make Chelsea’s starting XI. The Belgian managed to become Chelsea’s top goalscorer in all competitions but trailed Mason Mount by two goals in the Premier League goalscoring charts.
An exit was the only sensible decision in many regards and Todd Boehly and co helped faciliatate that quickly by accepting a loan deal back to Inter Milan rather than trying to negotiate a permanent deal. A package close to what Chelsea agreed less than 12 months before would not be forthcoming. Chelsea’s goalscoring prowess has only grown worse, while Lukaku’s season threatened to go via the same route.
Injury plagued the 30-year-old’s season and the former Everton star was struggling to make the starting lineup under Simone Inzaghi. A poor combination for Chelsea, leaving the club with a player they don’t want and a potentially worse market.
The twilight of the season has started to see that change however, and since the beginning of April, Lukaku has been involved in 11 goals including a strike against Sassuolo that displayed the hallmarks of Lukaku at his best. A fierce strike that would remind onlookers of the quality he does possess.
“You know what Lukaku can do and as a coach I had brought him back in with enthusiasm after the last month,” Inzaghi told reporters ahead of the Champoions League semi-final second leg against AC Milan. “This is what he should have given us all year but, unfortunately, there were unforeseen circumstances for him and for [Marcelo] Brozovic, who were taken away from us for five months. The team had to suffer without them.”
Does any of that change the Lukaku issue that is brewing? Probably not. It may leave the forward with a destination for the summer with the possibility of another return to Milan but it will be another moment where the Blues can’t come close to recounting some of the £97.5million they spent less than two years ago.
Mauricio Pochettino will likely get his say on the striker who has managed 12 goals and five assists this term but the likelihood is he will not fit in the incoming Chelsea boss’ system and immediate pressure would await Lukaku with performances being required to appease disgruntled Chelsea supporters after his frustrated interview in December 2021.
There is little indication that Inter are in a financial position to compensate Chelsea well for Lukaku’s signature and little sign of competition in the transfer market. Perhaps the hole Chelsea have made in signing Lukaku will see the forward have a possible future with the Blues given their need for a striker and their inability to move him on for a successful fee.
A situation not too dissimilar to that Kepa Arriabalaga has found himself in, in recent seasons. Ultimately, however, trimming the fat from Chelsea’s squad will be more important and Pochettino will have little time for ill-fated experiments as he looks to launch Chelsea back into Premier League contention.