Show caption Romelu Lukaku said he is looking forward to working under the Chelsea manager, Thomas Tuchel. Photograph: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC/Getty Images Chelsea Romelu Lukaku: ‘Scoring goals is beautiful but winning trophies sets you apart’ A decade after he first arrived at Stamford Bridge, the £97.5m Belgium striker is back with one ambition: to win trophies under Thomas Tuchel Jacob Steinberg @JacobSteinberg Thu 19 Aug 2021 09.16 BST Share on Facebook
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The notion that he has a point to prove after returning to England does not interest Romelu Lukaku. Chelsea’s new £97.5m striker has heard the jibes about his game before – the comments about his first touch, the whispers about his physique – but he does not intend to spend much time worrying about his critics.
“Being with my back against the wall is something that I experienced since my youngest age,” he says. “It’s nothing new to me. Whatever people are saying, let them talk. They have a perception. You do want respect, but you don’t want to keep fighting for it because you’re going to lose unnecessary energy.”
Lukaku knows his worth. The Belgian has put his underwhelming spell at Manchester United behind him and is delighted to be back at Chelsea, seven years after leaving them for Everton. At first glance he looks like the final piece in Thomas Tuchel’s jigsaw: the player capable of turning Chelsea from a top-four team into title contenders. The European champions lacked a top goalscorer last season and now they have one of the best in the world in Lukaku, who has benefited hugely from spending the past two years with Antonio Conte at Internazionale.
It is not hard to see why Lukaku wanted to leave Everton for Conte’s Chelsea in 2017, only to join United instead. They were unstoppable together at Inter. Lukaku’s career had stalled somewhat at United, who did not see the best of him, and he needed a change of scenery after finding that he was no longer part of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s plans.
United’s loss was Inter’s gain. Conte finally got his man, bringing Lukaku to Italy for £74m, and he worked his magic on Belgium’s record goalscorer. The change in Lukaku was remarkable. He made tweaks off the pitch, becoming leaner after altering his diet, and his tactical awareness grew thanks to Conte’s coaching. Everything clicked and Lukaku became the most fearsome attacker in Italy, helping Inter to end their 11-year wait for a title after scoring 24 goals and registering 11 assists.
Lukaku with the former Internazionale head coach Antonio Conte: ‘He really helped me and showed me what it took to win.’ Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images
“Serie A was a league I always wanted to play in,” Lukaku says. “You deal with a different kind of pressure. Antonio Conte really helped me and showed me what it took to win. It’s a totally different game in Italy. Very, very tactical. Tight spaces and in most games you only get one chance and if you don’t score it gets very difficult. Efficiency-wise that was very important and I also learnt to play more with my back to goal.
“To learn how to win is basically pushing the barrier. With Antonio we learnt how to go to the red zone. In the second season we were much more consistent in winning big games. The Italian game is so different. You have to make the right run or movement to get another player free. We always had a lot of possession.
“Most of the time you were back to goal and everything was going through me. I remember having a conversation with Conte about this and he told me if I wasn’t good at that I wouldn’t play. That was an eye-opener. Once I mastered that aspect then everything became easier. I could control the game more and give more assists.”
‘The dream is a reality’: Romelu Lukaku returns to Chelsea – video
Lukaku was happy at Inter but the club’s dire financial situation made it impossible for him to stay. Conte departed after a disagreement with the board, Simone Inzaghi replacing him, and Chelsea jumped at the chance of a reunion with Lukaku.
There is a sense of unfinished business. Lukaku was a raw 18-year-old when he left Anderlecht for Chelsea in 2011 and he found it difficult to break into the first team. He had loans at West Bromwich Albion and Everton, who eventually signed him permanently. “I was young and I don’t think I was as evolved as I am now,” Lukaku says.
“My journey has had a lot of ups and downs but if you keep performing you will always get a chance. My relationship with the club has always been great and to be back is a good feeling.”
Lukaku, who should make his debut at Arsenal on Sunday, is excited about playing for Tuchel. He became an admirer of the German after watching Chelsea last season. “Every game there is a different plan,” Lukaku says. “That’s something that I told him in the first conversation I had with him. I said: ‘Look, I try to figure out what you try and do with the team but I never figured it out because every game was different.’ That’s what I like because I look at the game from a tactical point of view. I don’t really look at the game just to watch.”
The plan now will be to get the ball to Lukaku, although he is not worried about personal glory. “It’s not about records. It’s about winning trophies. I’ve realised how different people’s attitude is towards you when you win something. In conversations I had with Didier Drogba or John Terry or Antonio Conte, the respect I have is different when you start winning.
“That was something I really wanted. I wanted to win so bad. I went to Inter and then we did. That’s the only thing that matters to me – winning. Scoring goals, that’s beautiful. I know I am in a position where I can score a lot of goals. But winning trophies, that sets you apart.”