Romelu Lukaku insists former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has made him a ‘complete player’ as he vows to become a Stamford Bridge hit at the second time of asking following his £98m move… and says he’s ‘intrigued’ to play under Thomas Tuchel
- Romelu Lukaku completed a £98m return to Chelsea from Inter Milan last week
- Lukaku first joined the Blues as a teenager 10 years ago but failed to impress
- But the Belgian hitman believes he has found a new level after spell at Inter Milan
- The 28-year-old believes he has the all-round game to be a success at Chelsea
If Romelu Lukaku is to be the player who helps Chelsea become a Premier League-winning team, he will have to show himself to be a more effective footballer than the last time he was playing in England with Manchester United.
In Lukaku’s mind, there is no doubt that he will. His two-year spell in Italy with Inter Milan not only restored some confidence, it also contained a technical breakthrough that some would argue had taken too long to arrive. Coincidentally the coach he credits is Antonio Conte, who brought Chelsea their last league title in 2017.
‘The Italian game is so different as it’s so tactical and technical,’ said Lukaku on Wednesday.
Romelu Lukaku has started training with his new Chelsea team-mates following his transfer
The Belgian has returned to Stamford Bridge following a £98million move from Inter Milan
‘We always had a lot of possession. Most of the time I was back to goal and everything was going through me. I remember having a conversation with Conte about this.
‘He told me if I wasn’t good at that, I wouldn’t play. For me that was an eye-opener. Once I mastered that aspect then for me everything became easier.
‘The game would slow down and I could control it more and give more assists. That was really something I wanted to do and I wanted to experience that in another country, where I thought it would be beneficial for the rest of my career.’
Now Lukaku, still only 28, has his opportunity and it will be interesting to see what happens.
Lukaku now believes he is a better all-round player following his last Premier League spell
His first spell at Chelsea — which began when he was just 18 — is not memorable or informative. But his time at Everton proved to be both.
At times back then Lukaku was almost unplayable, but largely when the ball was played in front of him or in the air. At Manchester United he was occasionally effective but rarely so when required to contribute the kind of link-up play he now claims to have honed and developed in Serie A.
It stands to reason, then, that the challenge now is to bring this to Thomas Tuchel’s team back in a league that Lukaku admits continues to present its own unique challenges. ‘Watching the Premier League over the last few years, the players have got better, the teams have got better and I am ready for the challenge,’ he said.
‘The Premier League has a bit of everything but the experiences in Italy made me more complete as a player.’
Lukaku has previously featured in the Premier League, most prominently at Everton (left) and at Manchester United (right) to mixed success
Lukaku’s strike rate of 64 goals in 98 games for Belgium and 47 in 72 Serie A appearances put him alongside almost any striker in world football. At Everton, between 2013 and 2017, he also struck at a Premier League rate of almost exactly one goal every two appearances.
Anything like those standards would do for Chelsea this season. But his time at United — first under Jose Mourinho and then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — remains fresh in the memory. At times, the Belgian looked lost and he admitted on Wednesday that it’s this perception of him that will follow him back to England, at least in part.
‘The perception is something that you get to a point where you just don’t fight against it,’ he said.
‘Really that is something that I thought to myself when I went to Italy. That I’m part of this zone where people see me as a certain type of player that I’m not.
‘I am much more than what people want to see. I think going to Italy showed the world what I can do, along with me playing with Belgium.
The 28-year-old credits former Inter Milan boss Antonio Conte to making him a better player
‘Being with my back against the wall is something that I experienced since my youngest age so it’s nothing new to me. It is what it is, I accept it.
‘I do my work in training and on the pitch and whatever people are saying, let them talk. They don’t know me.
‘You do want respect, but you don’t want to keep fighting for it because you’re going to lose unnecessary energy. I’m not really about that.’
Lukaku won Serie A with Inter last season, which is his only medal since winning the Belgian league with Anderlecht 11 years earlier.
He was at Chelsea when they won the Champions League in 2012, but played no part. ‘I was there but I wasn’t there,’ he smiled.
Lukaku failed to make an impact after first joining Chelsea a decade ago from Anderlecht
Ahead of this transfer back to the west London club for almost £100million, Lukaku spoke to the likes of Didier Drogba and Thierry Henry. But he says his most eye-opening conversations have been with his new coach, Tuchel.
‘What I like about him is that for every game there is a different game plan,’ Lukaku said. ‘That’s something I told him in the first conversation we had. I said, ”Look, I have tried to figure out what you try to do with the team but I have never figured it out because every game was different”.
‘That’s what really intrigued me to come and play for him. Because he is a manager who is tactically very, very strong.
‘He wanted something different to add to the team from what he’s got. I think I’m different from all the players that he has.’
The No9 shirt that will be worn by Lukaku — perhaps as early as on Sunday at Arsenal — has weighed heavy on previous occupants. Lukaku maybe has more to prove than most who passed before, even if he doesn’t yet know it himself.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel will hope the Belgian can boost his side’s attack this term
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