A year in to his Inter career and Romelu Lukaku is thriving. Dan Roberts asks what the Belgium striker has to do to win over any remaining critics…
It’s strange to think that there are still some people that are not entirely convinced by Romelu Lukaku. Critics might point to a supposed lack of touch, or dredge up a memory of when he missed an easy chance. But the fact is that the Belgian striker has been prolific wherever he has played and is his country’s all-time leading goalscorer. Surely there is not much more he can do to get the naysayers on his side?
Lukaku completed his first season in Italy scoring 34 goals in all competitions, equalling the club record set by Ronaldo for the most goals scored in a debut season. Even though he didn’t get to receive a winners’ medal this season, he made a major contribution to his club’s qualification for next season’s Champions League, ultimately finishing in second place, one point behind Juventus and brought Inter to their first European final since their treble winning season in 2010.
Lukaku had been an unqualified success at Manchester United after joining the club in the summer of 2017 for an initial fee of around £75m. But after averaging a goal every two games for two seasons at Old Trafford under Jose Mourinho, he was made to understand that he was clearly not in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans. In the summer of 2019 he signed a five-year deal with Inter for a fee reported to be around £80m – a club record.
Once again Lukaku hit the ground running. In his very first game for the club he scored in a 4-0 victory over Lecce, making it the fifth of his six clubs where he has managed that feat on his debut – it was only at Chelsea where he failed to find the net in his first game. He scored from the penalty spot in his second game away at Cagliari to give Inter a 2-1 win, but was then subjected to vile racist abuse from the home fans.
He continued to increase his tally over the next few weeks, equalling Ronaldo’s club record of nine in his first 11 games. It is fair to say that his first year in Italy had already been a massive success before the season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Inter were supposed to be the main challengers to Juventus’ dominance in Serie A this season. But a disappointing run of results just after the winter break saw the reigning champions extend their lead at the top of the table and Lazio sneak in as a contender for the title. Back-to-back defeats at the hands of those two clubs pushed Inter into third and waiting for a slip up from either to give the Nerazzurri another chance.
But Lukaku has continued to be a huge presence in the Inter team and remained on top of his game as he picked up where he left off – scoring goals as soon as the action resumed in Italy. If it were not for the Belgian striker, even with all the talent Antonio Conte has at his disposal, it is unlikely that Inter would have been as close to a league title as they have been.
It is not surprising that Lukaku has had such an affect wherever he has played. It has been well documented how he made a promise to his family when he was just a boy that he would become a professional footballer and look after them when he was older. From signing his first contract with his hometown club, to performing for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, Romelu Lukaku has always shown a hunger and desire to show that he deserves to be regarded as one of the very best.
Perhaps it was the way that he was never really given the chance to play for Chelsea after making the move from Belgium as a teenager that has spurred him on to such greatness. After idolising players such as Didier Drogba, continually being overlooked at Stamford Bridge drove him on to star for both West Brom and Everton on loan. It was his goals and intelligent play then that convinced the Goodison Park club to sign him before Manchester United then came calling in 2017.
Throughout his career, Lukaku has been as much a force on the international stage as he has for his clubs. He has scored more goals for the Belgium national side than anyone in history and might be able to use an extra season in Italy to hone his considerable skills still further and help his country lift the European Championship trophy at the tournament that will now take place next summer.
He has already become a hero at the San Siro – and his talents have been recognised by Antonio Conte in a way that was sometimes overlooked during his time in England. Often typecast as the lone target man receiving long hopeful balls, his true skills have flourished in Serie A after being given more responsibility to play to his strengths.
Conte has paired him with Lautaro Martinez and the two have not stopped scoring all season. Lukaku has scored a number of goals running at petrified defences and teamed up with his Argentinian strike partner to great effect. His long range shooting has also proved incredibly successful. Unfortunately for Inter, Martinez has been linked with a move away – with Barcelona one of the main contenders for his signature. But it is Lukaku who the Serie A club need to keep hold of.
Lukaku is contracted to stay at Inter until 2024 and the club could do a lot worse than build a squad around the Belgium international as they look to challenge Juventus and others over the next few years. If he keeps on scoring goals like he has this season he may be able to bring a league title to Inter for the first time since 2010, as well as shut the racists up for good. Surely no one should doubt that he has the ability to do that now?