In the summer of 2021, Chelsea thought they had pulled off quite the coup in luring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge.
They had to dig deep to prise a proven goalscorer away from Series A giants Inter, but the consensus was that an immediate return on that investment would be delivered.
The Blues were prepared to speculate on an epic scale to accumulate what they thought would be a healthy collection of major honours. With a powerful No.9 leading their line, how could they be stopped?
Well, it is fair to say that things did not play out as planned in west London. Little value, if any, has been found in a record-breaking deal and Lukaku now finds himself back in Italy.
Inter president Steven Zhang officially confirms the return of Romelu Lukaku ♻️ pic.twitter.com/6VLiYIu0A8— GOAL (@goal) June 29, 2022
His ability remains beyond question, with Belgium expected to benefit from his considerable presence as they sit at 11/1 to secure the most prestigious of sporting prizes according to odds for World Cup 2022. If the Red Devils can get him firing on all cylinders, then their so-called ‘Golden Generation’ will take some stopping in Qatar.
There will be many interested observers at Chelsea when FIFA’s flagship event gets underway in Qatar, with plenty of players on their books – along with a few currently taking in loan spells elsewhere – set to take to the grandest of global stages.
Lukaku retains the kind of support at the international level that quickly deserted him when making his way back to England a little over 12 months ago. Belgium is prepared to play to his strengths and make him a focal point of collective plans.
Chelsea was never willing to do that, with Thomas Tuchel making it clear that no one individual was going to dictate his tactical blueprint. As a result, a man with over 100 Premier League goals quickly became a bit-part performer for the Blues.
A parting of ways in the last transfer window became almost inevitable, with Inter delighted to throw open their doors again to a forward that previously helped them reach domestic title glory. Lukaku is yet to spark back into life in Italian football, but he appears much happier.
Chelsea may be ruing their decision to sanction a season-long deal quite so quickly, with Tuchel having been replaced in their dugout by Graham Potter while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – another familiar figure to Premier League audiences – has been drafted in to help deliver a cutting edge in the final third.
Welcome back Rom 🖤💙 pic.twitter.com/VNnIZyMjs5— Inter (@Inter) June 29, 2022
A managerial change could have worked in Lukaku’s favour, allowing plenty of slates to be wiped clean, but he will not be seen again at Stamford Bridge until at least the summer of 2023. That means fans will continue speculating whether he is worth persevering with or not.
Chelsea could decide that cutting their losses is not the right approach, with Lukaku costing them £98 million to acquire. He has just 44 appearances back in familiar surroundings, for £2.2m per outing, while each of his 15 goals has cost the Blues £6.5m.
Writing him off as a flop, even when taking a sales figure into account, would be a bold call and one that the Blues have lived to regret in the past.