Belgian international Romelu Lukaku returned to his boyhood club Chelsea at the start of the 2021/22 season, for a club-record fee of £97.5 million. Thomas Tuchel’s side was in desperate need of a clinical striker, to edge themselves closer to Manchester City and Liverpool. Initially, it looked to most fans like Lukaku was the perfect fit. He netted 24 goals in 36 appearances for Inter Milan in the previous season, as they lifted the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years. A boyhood fan returning to his club in a bid to lift the Premier League trophy, off the back of his best season in professional football sounded like it was a match made in heaven.
However, with an eye-watering fee attached to Lukaku’s name, a return to the club he “loved” as a young player, and after hitting the best form of his career, pressure was bound to mount on the Belgian. He finished the season with just 8 Premier League goals in 26 Premier League games for The Blues. So, what exactly went wrong?
At the very start of the season, Lukaku did look like he was going to be a force to be reckoned with. He scored 3 goals in his first 3 games upon his return to Chelsea, most significantly scoring against London rivals Arsenal away at the Emirates. As the season started to progress, Lukaku’s form started to decline. He had a few spells on the side-lines as he sustained an ankle injury and contracted COVID-19, which of course didn’t help his form.
It was visible to most football fans that Chelsea’s creative team play suffered last season. This came when full-backs Ben Chilwell and Reece James sustained major injuries at the same time in the winter period. Attacking full backs are integral cogs in Tuchel’s machine, roles of which both James and Chilwell excel in. Losing them both to injury evidently stunted Chelsea’s creativity at times. This of course, affected their attackers and their form, Lukaku included.
Chelsea’s Issue with Lukaku
The main issue with Lukaku, was between the club and his manager, due to his behaviour off the field.
In the middle of the season, Lukaku did an interview with Sky Italia, about his time at Chelsea. He openly criticised his manager and the style of play in which he had implemented. The Belgian said that he “wasn’t happy,” at Chelsea. He then further stated that had Inter Milan offered him a new contract at the start of the season, he said he would have “100% stayed,” in Italy. This behaviour was heavily frowned upon, and Lukaku found himself dropped from Chelsea’s next game by his manager. Tuchel was understandably taken aback by Lukaku’s behaviour. The club and its staff were revealed to be “completely unaware” that Lukaku had participated with the interview until after it was released. The striker was then forced to issue a formal apology to the club and the fans. Although, after this point, it was quite clear that he was no longer well-perceived by the Chelsea supporters.
What happened next?
Lukaku spent the rest of the season in and out of the team. As a striker costing the club nearly £100 million, it was quite clear that he couldn’t just see the rest of the season out sat on the bench. However, when he did feature for Chelsea, his form wasn’t anywhere near the level that was expected of him. His form dipped dramatically. After playing a full 90 minutes for Chelsea away at Selhurst Park, he was revealed to have touched the ball just 7 times.
He scored 3 goals in 6 games as Chelsea had a run to the FA Cup final, but that was about as impressive as his goal scoring was. The prolific striker Chelsea had signed from Inter Milan, was nowhere to be seen.
Ultimately, the rift between Chelsea and Lukaku had grown too big, after he had expressed his burning desire to return to Serie A. Chelsea ultimately decided to loan him back to Italy ahead of the 2022/23 season, as it became apparent, he was no longer a fit at the club. Chelsea’s issue with Lukaku had very visibly stemmed from the interview he did with Sky Italia. After that point, nothing was quite the same, for the fans or Lukaku at Chelsea. The club had showed such willingness and faith in him, spending such an expensive fee to bring him back to West London, which he had failed to repay.