A decade on from his first unveiling as a Chelsea player, when he arrived from Anderlecht as a teenager, Lukaku has become a far more experienced and complete player, thanks in no small part to his time leading the line for Inter as they claimed their first Serie A title for 11 years last season.
‘It’s good to be back here having experienced success elsewhere, but also a different playing style, where it’s more technical-based and more tactical,’ said Lukaku. ‘It was part of my plan, to try to experience different leagues. So I experienced Serie A, which was a league I always wanted to play in at one stage of my career.
‘Going there you deal with a different kind of pressure, but it was good. As a player it’s a totally different game, very tactical, tight spaces, most of the games you only get one chance and if you don’t score it then it gets very difficult. That was very important for my efficiency, but also playing with my back to goal and the tactical aspect of the game, which is really important, so it was a good experience.
‘The Italian game is so different, you have to make the right run or make the right movement to get another player free because we had a lot of possession, so we were playing in the opponent’s half and most of the time I had my back to goal and everything was going through me. So for me that was really an eye-opener and once I mastered it, then for me everything became easier, the game would slow down and I could control the game more and give more assists.’
However, it isn’t just his time in Italy that has shaped Lukaku into the striker he is today. He also revealed there were lessons he learned from his time in England, especially working with Didier Drogba and the rest of our first Champions League-winning squad at Chelsea in 2011/12, which had a lasting influence on his development.
‘I was one of the young players coming through and for me, those experiences were very beneficial for the rest of my career. The basics that I learned about work ethic and what it takes to win, I took for the rest of my career.
‘The Premier League has a bit of everything so the experiences I had before I left were great, I loved every minute of it, on and off the pitch. I think the experience in Italy made me more complete as a player, but I’d been living the Premier League for many years before. Watching the Premier League over the last two years, the players got better, teams got better, and I’m ready for the challenge.’
Between his impressive performances for Inter and Belgium in recent years, he believes everyone can see the all-round striker he has developed into, but accepts that some people will always pigeon-hole him as a target man due to his physical presence. He isn’t concerned with trying to prove them wrong, though, with his focus solely on helping Chelsea succeed.
‘I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. The only thing that motivates me is myself. I’m a self-motivator, I always have been. That’s something I thought to myself when I went to Inter: “I’m out of this zone where people are seeing me as a certain type of player that I’m not. I’m much more than what people are seeing.”
‘So I think me going to Inter basically showed the world what I can do, and also me playing with the national team of Belgium shows people what I can do. Being with my back against the wall is something that I’ve had since a very young age, so it’s nothing new to me.
‘I’ll do my work on the pitch and whatever people are saying, I let them talk. They have a perception, they don’t know me, but my performances have always done the talking.’
One person who certainly sees Lukaku’s full worth to a team is Thomas Tuchel, who has already expressed his excitement at having the 28-year-old in his Blues squad, and according to our new striker the feeling is mutual, with the chance to play under the German being one of the things which appealed to Lukaku about returning to Stamford Bridge.
‘What I really like about him is that for every game there is a different game-plan,’ added Romelu. ‘Training sessions are always with the goal of trying to prepare the team for the game at the weekend and that’s what I love about him.
‘I told him in the first conversation that we had: “I tried to figure out what you are trying to do with the team but I’ve never figured it out because every game was different” and that’s what I like, because I look at the game from a tactical point of view. I want to know what a team is doing, and that’s what really intrigued me to become a player for him because he is a manager who is tactically very strong.’