Ashley Cole has praised Romelu Lukaku’s development since leaving Chelsea 10 years ago, but believes that ‘no-one respected him’ during his time at Stamford Bridge.
The Belgium international, who was named Serie A Footballer of the Year after netting 24 goals and adding 11 assists last season, made the switch to west London as a teenager from Anderlecht. However, he failed to find the back of the net for the Blues in his handful of appearances.
Lukaku was loaned out to West Brom and Everton before impressing at Goodison and making a permanent switch in 2014.
Three prolific campaigns saw Manchester United stump up an initial £75million for the striker in 2017. But things did not go quite as well at Old Trafford and Lukaku joined Inter Milan for €80m two years later.
The rest is history, with Lukaku enjoying Serie A title success and also being linked with a Stamford Bridge return. And Cole firmly believes his old team-mate is now one of the best strikers in the world.
But speaking to ITV Sport, Cole was asked why Lukaku failed to shine at Chelsea.
“He joined as a kid, he joined as a 17-year-old. [He was] a raw talent, his game understanding was not great. Didier Drogba was his kind of father figure who used to help him in terms of developing his technique and understanding of movement.
“And then I think the two loans really gave him that self-belief that he was good enough. Yes, he was still young but he still had a point to prove.
“I think no one kind of respected him at Chelsea, in terms of the fans. When he did play, was he going to be the top striker for Chelsea? He had Didier Drogba in front of him.
“For him to go on loan and prove to himself, he definitely came back with that self-belief, that courage, and now his performances have been second to none, he’s been quality.”
First-touch Lukaku a ‘deadly finisher’
Asked about the criticism Lukaku often receives over his first touch, Cole replied: “Yeah… me at 17 years of age I think my touch was probably a little bit better than his!
“But you’ve got to understand, he was getting pressure from behind, it’s something he needed to work on and I think he did.
“Now stuff sticks a little bit better, his link-up play has improved, and in front of goal he’s deadly now.”
Lukaku scored twice in Belgium’s opening Euro 2020 win against Russia. He also played a major role in both goals in the come-from-behind win over Denmark on Thursday. The victory saw Roberto Martinez’s men qualify for the last-16.