Romelu Lukaku returns to Inter: Football’s most infamous mercenary set to feel the wrath of San Siro

The Belgian looked set to rejoin the Nerazzurri on a permanent transfer during the summer, but was secretly trying to secure a move to Juventus

Jose Mourinho has been at it again this week. In between expressing his astonishment at being sent off for mocking Monza’s coach last Sunday, he has been feigning surprise at the furore surrounding Romelu Lukaku’s imminent return to San Siro.

“I didn’t think Lukaku was so important in Milan,” the Roma coach told reporters on Wednesday. “What Romelu did in Milan – winning a Scudetto and some cups – has been done by 200 players in the history of Inter.

“So, it’s interesting: Lukaku [moving] from Inter to Roma to help his coach (Mourinho) is a drama. But (Hakan) Calhanoglu from AC Milan to Inter is a marvel. And (Fabio) Cannavaro from Inter to Juventus or (Christian) Vieri from Inter to Milan, no problem.

“But Lukaku from Inter to Roma has become something that scares me, because I didn’t think Lukaku had such an important place in the heart of a club like Inter. It surprises me.”

Mourinho, though, knows exactly why the entire build-up to Sunday’s Serie A game is focused on Lukaku. The Belgian was meant to be wearing Inter’s colours at San Siro – not the red of Roma – and the way in which Lukaku went from one to the other remains a very hot topic at La Pinetina.

‘He who betrayed our jersey’

Mourinho has already tried to make light of the situation, arguing back in September on DAZN that “Inter have no reason to be angry [with Lukaku] because… they already have an extraordinary team, with many attackers. They should be happy for their former coach, who really needed Romelu.”

However, Inter fans don’t love Mourinho that much. Their enduring affection for the charismatic manager that led them to a historic treble in 2010 won’t in any way, shape or form take the edge off what is expected to be a vitriolic expression of hatred for a player that broke their hearts not once – but twice. Indeed, Inter ultras have been waiting for this game ever since the fixture list for the 2023-24 campaign came out.

“October 29 is a date we should circle in the calendar so we can be ready to let him hear all our disgust that we feel towards someone who turned his back on us in the most shameful way,” the Curva Nord group said in a statement. “A character who proved himself to be a small man because before being a champion, you must be a man and know how to keep your word. We defended you with swords drawn and you repaid us by turning your back.

“Before the game against Roma, the Curva Nord will hand out 50,000 whistles to be used at every touch of the ball from he who betrayed our jersey. Let us all show how someone who proved himself unworthy to wear this shirt ought to be treated.”

‘It was a moment to be silent’

The fans’ fury is undeniably understandable. Lukaku recently claimed that “everyone would be shocked” if they knew the truth about what went down during the summer and that there were moments in which he was so upset by the “rubbish” being reported in the press that he felt like he was going to “explode”.

Yet he refused to shed any light on the supposedly extenuating circumstances surrounding his shock decision to pull out of a transfer to Inter in the most disrespectful fashion possible.

“It was a moment to be silent and focus on myself,” he said. “I concentrated on what I can do well: play football.” Consequently, nothing new has been added to the narrative. The story remains the same.

Only July 14, Inter agreed – after lengthy negotiations with Chelsea that were assisted by Lukaku’s representatives, Roc Nation Sports – to make the striker’s loan stay at San Siro permanent for €35 million plus €5m in add-ons – which was quite the investment for the cash-strapped Nerazzurri.

But then, when they tried to contact Lukaku, nothing. Despite numerous attempts, via various mediums, Inter’s management team couldn’t reach the forward – or his lawyer. Even Lukaku’s closest friends in the San Siro dressing room were given the same silent treatment.

‘Are you sure he wants to join you?’

According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, though, there had been warning signs that Lukaku, despite all of his previous public proclamations of love for Inter and the city Milan, had gone cold on the deal. Neither he nor his lawyer had “over-extended” themselves during the transfer talks. He’d also stopped responding to Whatsapp messages and texts from team-mates.

Most tellingly of all, Chelsea’s negotiating team had even asked their Inter counterparts on the morning of the agreement, “Are you sure he wants to join you?” Word of a U-turn had got back to the Blues – but not Inter, who then spent the following hours scrambling around trying to find out what was going on. Serie A rivals Juventus and AC Milan both confirmed that they had spoken with Lukaku’s representatives.

Inter were furious, particularly as the secret talks with Juve were so far advanced. Club president Steven Zhang and his directors agreed to immediately sever all ties with Lukaku and his team.

When Lukaku belatedly spoke with Piero Ausilio over the phone, the conversation lasted 30 seconds, the Inter sporting director reportedly informed the attacker that the deal was dead and the club no longer wanted anything to do with him.

Throwing his toys out of the pram

It was a view shared by Simone Inzaghi’s squad. Amid talk of the transfer being resurrected later in the window, after Chelsea and Juventus failed to agree a player-plus-cash deal involving Lukaku and Dusan Vlahovic, Inter’s most influential players, Lautaro Martinez, Nicolo Barella, Federico Dimarco and Alessandro Bastoni, made it clear that their former friend was no longer welcome in the dressing room.
As for Inzaghi, he’s refused to criticise Lukaku, saying only that he was “an excellent signing” for Roma.

But it’s clear that the coach’s decision to start Edin Dzeko alongside Martinez in last season’s Champions League final upset Lukaku enormously – and that’s understandable. Lukaku was the man in form and it was obvious even before the game that he would give Pep Guardiola’s defenders more trouble than the veteran Bosnian.

Still, Inzaghi has argued that his game plan to subdue City before trying to hit them with a second-half sucker-punch almost worked perfectly. Certainly, had Lukaku taken one of two great chances that came his way after being brought off the bench, Inter would have deservedly forced extra-time.

Furthermore, Inzaghi pushed his employers to sign Lukaku on a permanent basis. He wanted him at San Siro this season, making Lukaku’s U-turn look like an ill-advised act of petulance.

A ‘special’ bond

Of course, it’s not as if things aren’t going well for Lukaku in Rome. He’s scored five goals in his seven Serie A appearances to date and says he has a “special” relationship with ‘The Special One’, even claiming without a trace of irony that he views Mourinho as someone he can “trust”.

The endlessly mischievous Mourinho, meanwhile, says that Lukaku just needs to “feel loved and wanted”, with the obvious insinuation being that he was starved of such affection at San Siro.

Which is rubbish, of course. Despite shockingly leaving for Chelsea in 2021 without saying a single word of thanks to Inter fans, he was welcomed back and given a colossal amount of support during one of the most trying periods of his career.

All Inzaghi asked was that Lukaku fight for his place – which he did admirably right until the end of the season, only to then throw his toys out of the pram after being omitted from the starting line-up in Istanbul.

‘I demonstrate my ability on the field’

Of course, such behaviour is nothing new. This is Lukaku. This is what he does. There’s a very good reason why he’s as despised at Stamford Bridge as he is now at San Siro: a total lack of loyalty.

He is presently the game’s most infamous mercenary, one of the most expensive players in football history in cumulative transfer fees, and yet let down so many people at Manchester United, Chelsea and Inter that Juve fans were horrified by the prospect of their club signing him this summer.

Roma, of course, welcomed him with open arms because, as Mourinho pointed out, he was in such dire need of a “champion”. The Portuguese will certainly be glad to have him on his side on Sunday night. He knows that Lukaku remains a major force in Serie A. And Lukaku knows that too.

His belief in his own ability hasn’t been shaken by the relentless criticism he has endured in recent months; if anything, he’s being driven by it. Indeed, Lukaku says he’s no longer riled up by the haters and is instead only interested in silencing them.

“I don’t speak,” he said earlier this month. “I demonstrate [my ability] on the field.” Which is just as well, really, because what he says off it no longer counts for anything.