Romelu Lukaku was one of the Sint-Guido-Instituut students whom a Belgian film crew followed for a school year for an award-winning fly-on-the-wall documentary broadcast seven years ago.
One of the most striking scenes from the series was of a 16-year-old Lukaku standing in an empty Stamford Bridge, saying: “If one day in my life, I will cry, it will be the day I play here. I love Chelsea.”
The pupils were on a field trip to London and had taken a stop at Lukaku’s beloved Chelsea. When his teacher tried to snap him out of his dream-like state to keep up with the rest of the class, the youngster replied: “This is not dreaming. I will do it. One day I will play here.”
Lukaku, of course, went on to play at Stamford Bridge but his dream has still not being entirely fulfilled. He never scored for Chelsea, never heard the crowd chant his name. For that reason, the 23-year-old has set his heart on returning to the club this summer.
It is also why he risked damaging his relationship with the Everton fans by refusing to sign a new contract last month. And it is why, if necessary, Lukaku is expected to fight to get his way.
Lukaku’s desire to become a Stamford Bridge hero will not stop him trying to put a temporary dent in Chelsea’s Premier League title ambitions on Sunday. His two superb goals knocked his former club out of the FA Cup last season and Chelsea will not be expecting any favours as they attempt to extend their lead over Tottenham Hotspur.
But once the final whistle has sounded at Goodison Park, Lukaku will return to being a fan of Chelsea, the team he started to support as a 10-year-old boy after watching Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink score against Manchester United. Later, his hero became Didier Drogba, who describes Lukaku as his “little brother”.
Chelsea’s willingness to spend more than £70 million on a player they sold for £28million only three years ago requires more lateral thinking. Buying back an asset at a vastly increased price never looks like good business. But placed within the context of the crazy money of the Premier League and what Chelsea could have achieved by the end of this season, the potential deal looks far from daylight robbery.
Since selling Lukaku on a permanent deal, Chelsea have won the Premier League and League Cup. By the end of this season, they could have added a second title and the FA Cup, while the Belgian has developed into one of the most potent strikers in the division. Lukaku is on course to finish the season as the Premier League’s top goalscorer, ahead of Harry Kane, Alexis Sánchez and Chelsea striker Diego Costa.
Costa was signed by former manager Jose Mourinho in the same summer Lukaku departed, with the former Anderlecht prodigy correctly believing that he would struggle for opportunities behind the Spain international.
But Lukaku is now ready to step up and Chelsea will regard it as money well spent for a forward that is established in the Premier League, knows the club and whose peak years lie ahead of him.
Chelsea are perhaps the best example of a club who have no problem with bringing former employees back and all of the recent returns have brought success.Mourinho won the title and the League Cup in his second spell with the club before last season’s meltdown. Nemanja Matic, sold to Benfica for £4.25 million and re-signed for £25 million, powered Chelsea to their 2015 league success and has played a big part again this year. David Luiz is on course to complete one of the most unlikely fairy-tale returns.
Others have followed suit, with Manchester United paying a world-record £89 million for Paul Pogba, a player they let slip away for free, and challenging for the £25 million signature of Michael Keane, who left Old Trafford for £2.5 million.
There are still those at Chelsea who worked so hard to sign Lukaku as an 18-year-old and remain convinced he can be a huge success at the club.
Careful planning and cajoling went into his successful loans to West Bromwich Albion and Everton. The idea was only ever to prepare Lukaku to be a Chelsea player before he fell under the spell of Roberto Martínez at Goodison Park and was convinced Mourinho would never fully trust him.
Stamford Bridge insiders lobbied to accept a smaller transfer fee from Everton with the inclusion of a buy-back clause, but Mourinho was not interested. He wanted as much money as possible to put towards his own transfer targets.
That decision means Chelsea face a summer fight with Everton over Lukaku after the relationship between the two clubs deteriorated over the John Stones saga two years ago.
Everton remain sore at how they feel Stones was encouraged to put in a transfer request by a pursuit that at times became too public, but Chelsea argue they did little more than register offers for a player they wanted to sign.
Stones eventually joined Manchester City, but, for Lukaku, as his old Sint-Guido-Instituut classmates will testify, there has only ever been one true love.