Will it be third time's a charm at Roma for Lukaku and Mourinho?

Romelu Lukaku once said he’d ‘run through brick walls’ for Jose Mourinho, a coach who understands the Belgian ‘needs love’… after their mixed time together at Chelsea and Man United, will third time be a charm at Roma?

  • Chelsea outcast Romelu Lukaku landed in Rome on Tuesday ahead of loan move
  • The Belgian striker will work with Jose Mourinho for the third time in his career
  • Would Mohamed Salah ‘do the dirty’ on Liverpool by leaving? And what about Man United ‘diving’?: Listen to It’s All Kicking Off, Mail Sport’s new podcast 

‘He is a big guy, physically so strong, but there is also a kid inside who needs that love, needs that support, needs to feel important.’

So said Jose Mourinho about Romelu Lukaku in a newspaper interview last year and as they prepare to work together for the third time, Lukaku is a footballer very much in need of some love.

He is thoroughly unwanted at Chelsea, where he has been training with the Under 21 side and never featured in Mauricio Pochettino’s plans.

The Belgian forward arrived in Rome on Tuesday night, where he was given a hero’s welcome by fans in the Italian capital ahead of a loan switch from the Blues. 

Inter Milan had shown interest in making the Belgian striker’s loan permanent at the beginning of the summer but Chelsea, who paid a club record £97.5million for him just two years ago, sought more than the £26m being offered.

Romelu Lukaku and Jose Mourinho are set to work together for the third time at Roma as the Belgian striker’s £5million loan deal from Chelsea nears completion

Lukaku was only 20 when he first played for Mourinho at Chelsea, but he was soon loaned out

Mourinho (left) needs another centre forward at Roma and Lukaku (right) has been totally frozen out at Chelsea after his Inter Milan loan, so the deal works well for both parties

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Inter’s enthusiasm evaporated when they learned Lukaku was considering a move to fierce rivals Juventus but the Turin club’s efforts to include Dusan Vlahovic in a part-exchange never moved Chelsea.

Juve’s fans made it very plain that Lukaku would not be welcome, storming their own pitch at the Allianz Stadium to protest against the potential signing.

And given Lukaku wasn’t enthusiastic about the Saudi Pro League at the age of 30, there looked a very real chance the transfer deadline would pass and he’d be left redundant.

Enter Mourinho, the one coach who did want Lukaku. Roma’s owner, the Friedkin family, were very much on board and have worked energetically to get the deal done.

Lukaku will join Roma on loan initially, taking a pay cut in the process, with the possibility of a permanent transfer if the proves the right fit. The loan fee to Chelsea is just over £5m and Roma will cover the player’s £6.4m salary.

Start scoring goals for Roma and Lukaku will soon feel the love from the passionate fans who pack the Curvas of the Stadio Olimpico.

In Mourinho’s first season in charge, Roma won the Europa Conference League and finished sixth in Serie A. Last season, they reached the Europa League final, losing on penalties to Sevilla, and again came sixth.

But the avowed aim of Dan and Ryan Friedkin, having seen progress under Mourinho, is to achieve a top four finish and reach the Champions League.

Lukaku could soon feel the love of the Roma supporters if he delivers goals this season

It was so near and yet so far for Roma as they lost to Sevilla in the Europa League final in May

Mourinho’s next target is to take Roma into the Champions League and Lukaku will help him

Lukaku greatly increases their chances. He scored 64 goals in 95 matches for Inter first time around and managed 14 last season despite injury setbacks.

He has netted 57 goals and supplied 18 assists in 97 Serie A outings so will pose a serious threat in league competition.

Lukaku’s responsibilities spearheading the Roma forward line, with Paulo Dybala buzzing around him, will be similar to those he executed so well under Antonio Conte at Inter.

First he will need to get back up to full match sharpness with Mourinho more than happy to deploy the 6ft 3in frontman as a battering ram.

Their paths first crossed at Chelsea during the 2013-14 season when Lukaku was just 20. Mourinho, just back for his second Stamford Bridge spell, played him just three times off the bench before sanctioning a loan to Everton.

That proved hugely beneficial for the youngster, who scored 15 Premier League goals and started to impose himself.

But there was no clear path to Chelsea’s first-team at that point with Didier Drogba, Diego Costa and Loic Remy at the club, so the Blues accepted Everton’s £28m offer and sold Lukaku.

Mourinho probably expected his path would cross with the big Belgian again but he has subsequently described Lukaku as ‘just a kid’ at that stage in his career.

In 2017, after Lukaku had thoroughly impressed in his three seasons at Goodison Park, Mourinho signed him to be Manchester United’s main striker in a huge £75m deal.

Lukaku has admitted that Mourinho was hard on him, especially when a youngster at Chelsea

Mourinho’s Man United splashed out £75m to buy Lukaku and his first season was excellent

Lukaku, by then 24, made a blistering start at Old Trafford and would score 27 times in all during his debut season as they finished second in the Premier League.

At one point in that campaign, Mourinho suggested Lukaku was ‘untouchable in my team’ and in a reference to a lukewarm reaction from United’s followers, ‘untouchable in support from the fans.’

Coming into the following season off the back of Belgium’s run to the World Cup semi-finals, Lukaku struggled to hit the same heights.

A 12-game goal drought in the autumn was one of several contributing factors – not least a feud with Paul Pogba – in Mourinho being fired just before Christmas 2018.

Shortly before that, however Lukaku had opened up on his admiration for Mourinho in an interview with Bleacher Report.

Asked if he was one of Mourinho’s ‘favourites’, he replied: ‘One of them, yeah. Because I would go through a brick wall for him – and he knows that.

‘He’s the type of coach where he would be honest with you and tell you how it is. And if you cannot deal with that, I mean that’s a big problem.’

Lukaku added: ‘Working under him when I was 24 is totally different than working under him when I was 19-20. When I was 19-20 it was hard on me, man. Oh, s*** I mean, hey, the guy was tough.

‘But now, 24 I mean, I understood him, I understand him now. I became better, I improved as a player.’ 

But things quickly went downhill for Mourinho in 2018-19 and Lukaku was left out in the cold

Lukaku admitted in a 2018 interview he ‘would run through brick walls’ for Mourinho 

Lukaku didn’t have the same rapport with Mourinho’s successor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t have quite the same rapport with Lukaku. He preferred Marcus Rashford up front and a quicker style of play, so Lukaku’s game time and goals dried up.

He did score twice in United’s miraculous comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain but it really was little surprise when he was sold to Inter that summer.

Both Mourinho and Lukaku will hope third time’s a charm as they work together again. They have a strong mutual bond and understanding to build upon.

Maybe Lukaku will finally get the love he craves in the Eternal City.


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