“I supported Chelsea as a kid and to be back now and try to help them win more trophies is an amazing feeling.”
Less than 12 months later, the Belgian striker leaves the club in what is arguably one of the costliest transfer blunders in Premier League history.
Lukaku’s return to Chelsea on a five-year deal cost the Blues a club-record £97.5m but he departs 10 months later with a first loan deal He hadn’t had the impact he and the club had hoped for.
His signing was set to make Chelsea contenders for the Premier League title, so how and why did it all go so wrong?
A move that should never have happened?
When Chelsea announced the signing of Lukaku, it seemed like they had secured the final piece of the puzzle.
The 29-year-old had just finished a stellar season at Inter, scoring 24 league goals and providing 11 assists, as the Italian side ended a decade of Juventus dominance and lifted the Serie A title.
Lukaku also had outstanding scores at Chelsea. He joined them as a teenager from Anderlecht in 2011 but left the team three years later after failing to score.
“I’m happy and blessed to be back at this wonderful club,” said Lukaku on his return to Stamford Bridge.
“It’s been a long journey for me. I came here as a child who had a lot to learn, now I come back with a lot of experience and more mature.”
The motivation and pedigree were there while Chelsea were in dire need of a striker. It was a perfectly sensible move.
He couldn’t have hoped for a better second debut, scoring in the 2-0 win at Arsenal on August 22 but it didn’t take long for things to unravel.
After scoring twice in the 3-0 win against Aston Villa on September 11, Lukaku had not scored another Premier League goal until December 26.
“He was seen as the final piece of the puzzle,” Chelsea fan and cfcuk fanzine writer Tim Rolls told BBC Sport.
“People loved it. We had fast wingers and he was the piece that would complete the puzzle. He was expected to make us competitors.
“Initially he looked at the business but for some reason it died down very quickly.”
Injuries and a bout of coronavirus didn’t help, but on the pitch he showed little of the strength, passing game and finishing ability that helped him score 47 goals in two seasons at Inter.
Despite Lukaku’s words on his return, the striker seemed unmotivated at times.
An interview with Sky Italia in December seemed to confirm this view as he said he was “not happy” with his role in the blues.
“It [the return to Inter] was powered by Lukaku. He made it very clear in his interview,” Italian football expert James Horncastle told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I think the subtext of that was that it wasn’t his decision to leave Inter. It was due to the financial strains and strains the club was under at the time.
“The circumstances of his departure bothered him greatly and left him confused.”
The glove that just didn’t fit
In this interview with Sky Italia, Lukaku made it clear that much of his dissatisfaction at Chelsea stemmed from how he was used by manager Thomas Tuchel.
The Germany coach was quick to dismiss claims his system wasn’t one of Lukaku’s strengths, but he still struggled to influence when he played.
When Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in February, Lukaku managed just seven touches – the fewest for a player to play the full 90 minutes of a Premier League game.
“It’s not about the system,” said Tuchel afterwards.
“There’s no system change because it’s the same attacking structure. We always attack 4-1, just to build up, sometimes we’re 3-2, sometimes 4-1. For him, that’s it.” does not change anything.”
Despite his troubles, Lukaku finished last season as Chelsea’s top scorer with 15 goals in all competitions, but given the heavy fee paid for his signing, Tuchel and Chelsea fans expected him to contribute more.
“Because he cost so much he has to be one of Chelsea’s worst signings,” added Rolls.
“When we bought Diego Costa, he immediately influenced the team. He was a leader, but Lukaku was almost the opposite.
“The other strikers may have been looking for him to lead and he didn’t. We were rudderless.”
Lukaku had also been linked with Manchester City last summer and Micah Richards believes it would have been the better move for him.
“I think if Lukaku was in the Manchester City team, he would score goals,” the former City defender told Monday Night Club last month.
“I think that’s the difference — it’s the system.”
Will Inter revive Lukaku?
Inter failed to defend their title last season, finishing second to rivals AC Milan, although scoring has not been a problem for Simone Inzaghi’s side as no team has scored more than Inter’s 84 league goals.
But the Italian side will see the return of a player who scored 34 and 30 goals in his previous two seasons for the club as the move that will give them an edge over their rivals next season.
Lukaku turns 30 next year so time isn’t on his side anymore, but a happy Lukaku is a scoring Lukaku and it’s clear this will be a move that pleases all parties.
“There were murals of Lukaku when he was last at Inter,” added Horncastle. “He was voted Serie A’s best player in a year [Cristiano] Ronaldo was top scorer – he was that good.
“It’s clear he felt he played his best football at Inter, that they understood him, that he understood them.
“He should never have left.”