£300m transfer fees and 339 goals, but Lukaku’s gone from unstoppable force to maddening flop
Athird goal in his last five games for inter Milan’s romelu Lukaku put him in an elite group of players with 50 goals in both Serie A and the Premier League, yet the occasion did not feel like a time to rejoice.
inter were on their way to a lacklustre 2-1 defeat at lowly Spezia on Friday, sliding further from runaway leaders Napoli and with success this season now resting heavily upon tomorrow’s Champions League tie in Porto.
they lead 1-0 from the first leg thanks to Lukaku’s late winner from the bench, but his trio of recent goals, which include two penalties, does not disguise the fact it has been a difficult return to italy, blighted by hamstring niggles and knee trouble.
Amid these fitness concerns, he failed to score at the World Cup as Belgium crashed out in the group stage and, at inter, has not been close to recapturing the meteoric highs of his first spell at the club.
the destructive partnership with Lautaro Martinez has not clicked under Simone inzaghi in the way it did under Antonio Conte and he has played only 50 per cent of minutes when available this season.
inzaghi has often opted to pair Edin dzeko with Martinez, and the decision to start with Lukaku at Spezia hints at the 36-year-old
Bosnian, who is out of contract in June, starting the big one at Porto. All of which adds up to more uncertainty for Lukaku, a player who has spent 12 years since first arriving in London as a teenager from Anderlecht oscillating wildly from an unstoppable force to a maddening flop. he has commanded transfer fees close to £300million and scored 339 goals for club and country.
Out on his own as Belgium’s greatest goalscorer, he ought to be one of the most important strikers of his generation, not one of its greatest conundrums. thirty years old in May, he wants to stay at inter when his loan expires. But they have made it clear they cannot loan him for another year on the same terms, with the package of fees, wages, bonuses and tax costing in the region of £20m. three years remain on his contract at Chelsea and the striker, who cost a club record fee of £ 97.5m in 2021, is not in Graham Potter’s plans. Asked on Friday, the Blues manager said it was a decision for the end of the season, but his style is too intricate for a centre forward like Lukaku, firmly in an elite wage bracket but no longer fitting the fashion for elite football.
in a way, he is a victim of clubs with more money than sense. those who wade into the market with no holistic plan, seduced by the goals, encouraged by agents with vested interests, without considering how it fits with the manager’s tactical plans or what happens when the manager is sacked. L UKAKU is a striker who thrives on direct football, space and an early delivery. his most prolific season in England was his last one at Everton, 2016- 17, when he scored 25 Premier League goals under ronald koeman.
the only manager to deploy him successfully at one of Europe’s elite clubs — one of those who regularly come up against opposition packing defensive areas — is Conte, poised to leave tottenham in the summer and most likely to return to italy, where they are bracing for a managerial reshuffle.
Lukaku and Conte are made for each other. the key for both to enjoy their football again might be to find a way to be together.
He’s a victim of clubs with more money than sense