Chelsea and Romelu Lukaku began the summer with a mutual desire to secure a transfer that initially seemed inevitable.
The riches of Saudi Arabia came calling but Lukaku wanted Inter and Chelsea were happy to negotiate with the Serie A side, who were close to striking an agreement before pulling out altogether and accusing the striker of betraying them by negotiating with Juventus.
While Juventus’ interest remains, a permanent transfer looks increasingly unlikely as the summer transfer window comes to an end, and so Chelsea have softened their stance on Lukaku and have opened the door to a potential return to Mauricio Pochettino’s team.
Is that really a good idea?
Nicolas Jackson was brought in during the summer for around £32m and has been Chelsea’s starting striker thus far, both on merit and out of sheer necessity.
Another new face, Christopher Nkunku, went down with a knee injury in pre-season and won’t be seen again in 2022, while academy graduate Armando Broja, who has seven goals in 45 Premier League appearances, is also out after undergoing knee surgery late last year.
It has left 22-year-old Jackson as the only senior striker available, with 20-year-old Mason Burstow coming off the bench to make his debut for the club in the 3-1 win over West Ham United.
Across his career, Lukaku has made over 600 appearances for club and country, and has struck over 300 goals. Objectively, that’s impressive.
The problem for Chelsea fans, however, is that level of proficiency in front of goal has not been seen at Stamford Bridge. Lukaku has 59 outings for Chelsea to his name but has managed just 15 goals – number which, while impressive, don’t reflect a £97.5m striker.
At his best, Lukaku could be an ideal partner for Jackson, whose high-tempo style of play appears to compliment the Belgian in the same way Lautaro Martinez benefited from playing alongside Lukaku at Inter.
Lukaku relishes playing in space and receiving through balls on to which he can use his deceptive agility and imposing physique to bully defenders, and with players like Enzo Fernandez and Raheem Sterling always looking to make those passes, there’s an argument to suggest that Lukaku could rediscover his best form in this side.
Even if Lukaku is not at his physical peak anymore, he still represents a dominant focal point who occupies defenders, which would create space for the speedy forwards playing either side of him.
Concerns over Lukaku’s fitness – he started just 19 Serie A games last year and began every Champions League game as a substitute – are more than fair but pale in comparison to fears about his mentality and his relationship with the fans.
Lukaku’s infamous interview shortly after his move to Chelsea left most fans furious and his clear desire to be playing his football in Serie A has seen many supporters offer to drive him back to the airport themselves. Is introducing such a divisive character the right move at such a delicate point in the club’s history?
Further to that, Pochettino will not want any players in his squad who are not 100% committed to Chelsea. If there are doubts over Lukaku’s willingness to give his all for the blue shirt, the manager may be reluctant to trust him.
It’s almost comical that Chelsea, a side who have famously struggled for goals over the past few years, have one of this generation’s most deadly forwards on their books while all this is going on.
While it appears to be a match made in heaven on paper, the reality is a reunion has the potential to be anything but. Chelsea have their work cut out for them restoring a sense of stability and rebuilding a relationship with fans that has been damaged by mediocrity and misery, and Lukaku’s return could easily make things worse.
Football fans can be fickle and all would likely be forgiven if Lukaku returns to the team by crashing in goal after goal after goal, but it would represent a huge risk from Pochettino.
With a return to Inter now off the cards and Juventus hardly making the required moves to sign him, Lukaku may need fresh talks with Pochettino over his current stance. The striker’s reputation is at an all-time low and his pride could see him re-evaluate his desire to leave.
If Pochettino believes Lukaku is committed to the cause, the striker should be brought back, but if there is an ounce of doubt in the boss’ mind, Chelsea would be best served keeping their distance from the striker.