Roma have signed Romelu Lukaku on a season-long loan deal from Chelsea with the Italian side paying in excess of £11.7m between the cost of the loan and his wages and in truth it is a major marriage of convenience for player and club.
For Roma, Jose Mourinho needed a striker after Tammy Abraham ruptured his ACL on the final day of last season against Spezia and the English striker is out until 2024 at the earliest. With Eldor Shomurodov sent on loan to Cagliari, Mourinho had just Andrea Belotti as his only striker at the club, he of precisely zero league goals in 2022-23.
For Lukaku, Roma represented the only genuine alternative in Europe remaining. To his credit, the Belgian wanted to continue playing at the highest level and rejected an ultra-lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia despite the numbers of options available narrowing by the week. Lukaku’s lack of offers is of course due to his own bizarre behaviour over the past few months.
Lukaku burned Inter bridges
Lukaku seemed all but certain to return to Inter for a third time after his season-loan deal expired at the end of June, yet in the run-up to the Champions League final, it later emerged that the striker’s people had put out feelers to both Juventus and Milan in terms of a permanent transfer.
The 30-year-old couldn’t have burned the bridge with Inter more emphatically by doing so and the club effectively cut all ties with the Belgian.
Milan were never a feasible prospect given their tight wage structure and the player’s age; Juve, meanwhile, wanted Lukaku and were reportedly even willing to send Dusan Vlahovic to Chelsea in the process. This, understandably, didn’t go down well with Juve’s fans, as they protested his potential signing during a pre-season friendly against their youth academy by running on to the pitch. In the end, Mauricio Pochettino’s indifference on Vlahovic was the only reason the deal didn’t go through.
Man Utd connection
With no offers from Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1 or Bundesliga teams, Lukaku was left out in the football wilderness; an outcast by choice. However, a reunion with Mourinho offers up an intriguing dynamic. Mourinho signed the player for Manchester United in 2017 and the pair enjoyed one season together before Mourinho’s sacking in the winter of 2018.
In 2017-18, Lukaku fired in 27 goals in all competitions but the striker’s progress was interrupted when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Mourinho and inexplicably used him as a winger occasionally. The scene is now set for both Mourinho and Lukaku to rekindle a love lost.
Mourinho charm convinces striker
It’s thought that a phone call from Mourinho – which has so often been the case at Roma – was enough to convince Lukaku to join him in the Italian capital. Despite his last league trophy coming in 2014, Mourinho still holds the magnetic charisma to entice players. Had the Portuguese coach not been in Rome, there’s little doubt that Lukaku would even be considering the Giallorossi. This was also the case with Paulo Dybala and Tammy Abraham, with both admitting Mourinho’s charm offensive worked.
In an interview with The Times last year, Mourinho gave insight into what makes Lukaku tick, saying: “[In his first spell] at Chelsea, he was still a kid. At Manchester United, he was still developing. At Inter he became the top man.
“He became loved – a big love from the supporters, love from teammates, great relations with the coach. He’s a big guy, physically so strong, but there is also a kid inside who needs that love, needs that support, needs to feel important.”
Alliance of necessity
Lukaku will have that love at Roma in a way he hadn’t in his last two seasons at club level. His second spells at Chelsea and Inter didn’t work out, and with Lukaku now 30, he needs to hit the ground running with Euro 2024 looming on the horizon. He’ll be the main man at Roma, with Dybala, Houssem Aour and Lorenzo Pellegrini ordered to provide the service.
Five thousand Romantisti turned up at the city’s Campino airport to welcome him off the private jet flown by club owner Dan Friedkin. He wasn’t receiving that welcome in west London.
For Mourinho, this could likely be his last season at Roma, and he’ll want to leave the club in a much better place than when he found it. He’s been crying out all summer for a prolific striker, and now he has one. More importantly, he has one he’s worked with before and knows how to get the very best out.
It’s an alliance of necessity, and reheated soup never tastes the same, but another Mourinho-Lukaku link-up could work wonders.