Co-controlling owner Todd Boehly has negotiated a loan deal that will see Chelsea earn just €8m (£6.9m) up front with add-ons. Lukaku’s wages will be covered for the entirety of the loan after taking a 40 per cent cut on his £290,000-a-week salary, but there is no option or obligation to buy, giving Inter the luxury of choosing whether to keep him or not in a year’s time.
Much has been made about the Blues’ questionable business in signing strikers in recent years. But the £97.5million deal for Lukaku was meant to be a different — with the Belgian’s form and Premier League experience, outgoing transfer chief Marina Granovskaia felt they couldn’t lose.
However, not for the first time, Lukaku struggled when handling the role of the main protagonist at a big club after struggling at Manchester United too. And when the going got tough, he made no genuine attempt to continue working to make things right at Stamford Bridge. He scored only 14 goals in all competitions, of which eight came in the Premier League in 26 appearances.
After all, the 29-year-old had let out his true feelings back in December during an ill-timed and poorly advised decision to conduct an interview with the Italian media. Lukaku had been injured and out of form, so to take a swipe at Thomas Tuchel’s tactics and promise to return to Inter spoke volumes about where his thoughts truly were: back at Inter.
There may have been some changes in how Tuchel viewed Lukaku fitting into the team from when he first spoke to him, which is a normal part of the game. The Blues trialled several different attacking pairings, using Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, Christian Politic and Hakim Ziyech all alongside Lukaku in an attempt to get him firing, but the impact was minimal at best.
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And so, Lukaku will spend the 2022-23 season back at the San Siro, leaving Chelsea to find another striker to replace him with Armando Broja a £30m target for West Ham. The issue with this is that the only strikers good enough to improve the side will now question whether their career could take a similar turn, after an extraordinary record of £400m worth of strikers watching their careers turn to dust in west London.
Since Roman Abramovich took over in 2003, Hernan Crespo, Adrian Mutu, Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres and Alvaro Morata all joined for substantial fees with worldwide reputations to uphold, only for them to flop horrendously. Only Morata left with Chelsea taking a significant fee, but even the Spaniard was loaned out first.
Essentially, Chelsea only managed to retrieve a quarter of that expenditure thanks to Atletico Madrid’s wild spending on Diego Costa and Morata. Otherwise, their striking failures have headed for the exit quietly, either on a loan deal or being released from their contracts. And who could forget the disastrous loan deals for Radamel Falcao, Gonzalo Higuain and Alexandre Pato. All three were tremendous at the peak of their powers, but between them scored seven league goals to underline the costly mistakes made by the club throughout a prolonged period of time.
There have been exceptions, the main example being the £24m signing of Didier Drogba after his nine glorious years at the club across two spells. Similarly, Demba Ba, Loic Remy and Olivier Giroud were signed as backup options but all contributed in their own way to the club’s success — especially the latter. But otherwise, Chelsea have failed miserably to recruit smartly in this area.
Lukaku will be 30 the next time Boehly can open up negotiations on his future again. And that may well begin off the back of another 20-plus goal season in Italy, allowing them to negotiate from a position of strength and recoup a portion of the fee that they spent.
But the history books show it is unlikely to end so favourably, and Chelsea have to live with the fact that bringing Lukaku back to London might be one of the Premier League’s worst-ever deals.