The Hard Tackle takes a look at four potential destinations for Romelu Lukaku amid widespread links with the who’s who of European football.
It’s the summer of 2019. Romelu Lukaku is at a crossroads in his club footballing career. After arriving at Manchester United two years ago, the Belgian international was tipped to be the goalscoring powerhouse for the Premier League heavyweights. Lukaku did finish each of his two seasons at Old Trafford as United’s top scorer.
However, his stature withing the Red Devils’ first-team setup had changed drastically after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho at the helm. With Anthony Martial set to be groomed to become the long-term option as the central striker, Lukaku was put in an odd predicament and he invariably sought an exit from Manchester United before joining Inter Milan. This is when fortunes started to swing upwards for him.
At San Siro, Lukaku has been the top dog for the Nerazzurri, playing a key role in their transformation into Serie A title contenders. This season, he is just behind Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Capocannoniere come May, while no other player has provided more assists than the 27-year-old, who has become a well-rounded striker.
However, just when it looks like Lukaku has found his comfort place and established a stomping ground, he might well be on the move again. Inter Milan are in all sorts of trouble on the financial front and could very well have to cash in on some of their best players to stay afloat.
In addition, Lukaku’s own exploits have attracted him to some of the best clubs in Europe. With that in mind, The Hard Tackle attempts to list four potential destinations for the Belgian striker if he is indeed on the exit trail from Inter Milan come the summer transfer window.
This might have come as a surprise to many, but it seems as if a return to Chelsea could well be on the cards for Lukaku. The Blues are in the market for a striker less than twelve months after making Timo Werner a big-money arrival as part of a squad overhaul last summer.
However, the move has not panned out as envisioned for either party, with Werner struggling to settle down in the Premier League. While he has shown some signs of improvements under Thomas Tuchel, goals still continue to elude him for the most part even now. As a result, it has been mooted that Werner could be placed on the transfer list by Chelsea, with a summer exit beckoning him.
Erling Haaland is believed to be the priority for Chelsea to bolster their attack and set it up well for years to come. However, the fact that the Norwegian prodigy is a target for just about every top club across Europe means that pursuing the Borussia Dortmund striker will have its fair share of hurdles. To that end, Chelsea need to keep their options, which is exactly what they are doing.
As per recent reports, Lukaku has now emerged on the radar of Chelsea, who view him as the ideal alternative for Haaland. In many ways, a return to Stamford Bridge does make sense for both parties, with Chelsea being able to scour a replacement for not just Werner but also Olivier Giroud, who could be set for a summer exit from the west London club.
Lukaku’s ever-improving ability to hold play up in addition to adeptness at finishing with both his feet as well as his head means he is the kind of complete striker who could thrive in Tuchel’s system. On a personal level, he might feel that he has unfinished business at Chelsea, having not been given a chance to prove his credentials the last time he was at the club. For all intents and purposes, this is quite a realistic move for Lukaku and Chelsea.
A move that depends on many factors. Barcelona, like Inter Milan, are not in the pinkest of health as far as their financial condition is concerned. However, amid a transitional period that will surely see a lot of chopping and changing at Camp Nou, there seems to be a sense that enough funds could be procured to make one big signing this summer.
After all, most of Barcelona’s reported priority targets – the likes of Eric Garcia, Memphis Depay, Georginio Wijnaldum and Sergio Aguero – are players who will potentially arrive in Catalonia on a free transfer, meaning despite the kind of wages some of them would command, there could be room to move around some parts and get Lukaku on-board.
From a sporting perspective, a move for the former Chelsea and Manchester United striker makes a great deal of sense. In the 3-5-2 formation that Ronald Koeman has recently been making use of, a player like Lukaku could be the focal point around whom Barcelona can potentially play, and it is also a formation that Lukaku has been used to while playing for Inter Milan.
Even if Koeman reverts to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, Lukaku’s abilities would make him a seamless fit in a potentially changed system, enabling the other attacking players to play around him with the utilisation of his hold-up play. Having said that, the big question mark will invariably centre around Barcelona’s ability to raise funds to sign Lukaku, who will surely have a hefty price tag on him.
Another club that seem to be hotly pursuing a summer move for Lukaku. From Manchester City’s point of view, though, the interest in Lukaku is pretty straightforward, as they prepare for life after Sergio Aguero, who has been linked with the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and even Chelsea.
Aguero’s contract with the Premier League heavyweights runs out at the end of the season and there does not seem to be any movement whatsoever on the renewal front. With Gabriel Jesus largely flattering to deceive ever since joining Manchester City, there is a sense that Pep Guardiola can do with a top-class striker.
Granted, Jesus is still only 23 and might turn his fortunes around. But until he does so, Manchester City cannot keep lying in wait for the Brazilian to realise his potential. And, while Guardiola has found a way to make his system work without using a natural striker this season, having a natural number nine like Lukaku will definitely add another dimension to his side’s forays in the final third.
On top of that, considering the way Lukaku exited Manchester United, there might not be a sense of disloyalty attached to a possible summer switch to the Etihad. This is surely a move that can see the light of the day when the transfer window opens in a couple of months’ time.
Manchester United: Is a return to Old Trafford possible at all?
This is a bit of a left-of-centre option, but one that could be explored. Manchester United appear set for an overhaul in attack, with Anthony Martial being linked with a possible summer exit. In addition, Edinson Cavani’s future at Old Trafford is uncertain as well, with a move to Boca Juniors being mooted.
If both Martial and Cavani end up leaving, Manchester United will surely need to sign a striker even though Mason Greenwood has shown some promise when deployed centrally in recent weeks. With the English wonderkid still in his teens and in need of a lot of grooming, it is prudent for the Red Devils to invest in a striker.
A return for Lukaku, though, might be a bit of a far-fetched idea, considering it was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who sanctioned his sale two years ago. Despite the fact that the Belgian striker is more well rounded now, a transfer does not seem likely, especially considering the nature of his exit from Old Trafford. Turning their attention towards other options might be a wiser move on Manchester United’s part.