Romelu Lukaku made last season’s loan move to Everton permanent this summer in a deal worth £28 million, per BBC Sport. Having been at Chelsea since 2011, the big Belgian decided to move on after criticising the lack of opportunities he received at Stamford Bridge, revealing these thoughts to Steve Millar at the Daily Star.
The timing of this deal seemed strange; after all, this was supposed to be his year.
With Diego Costa leading the line, Lukaku was widely tipped to play as a second striker, getting a good run in a cup competition or two and providing cover for the Spaniard. Didier Drogba’s return should have been the icing on the cake, as Lukaku himself has cited the Ivorian as a big influence on his initial decision to join Chelsea in 2011, per ESPN FC:
Three or four years ago I had two jerseys of Didier Drogba, one to sleep in and one to wear in the street when I was playing with my friends. ... I always wore the same boots as Didier. … I'd watch Chelsea train on Chelsea TV. No-one else would do that. People called me crazy, my mum called me crazy.
[Drogba's] like my big brother, I tell him that. I say to him every day that he has to stay. He has to stay for me. If I can play for two more years he can prepare me for the big job. I know he wants to stay.
However, when it came down to it, Lukaku saw his former idol as a threat to his place in the starting XI rather than a potential mentor.
His frustration at the lack of playing time at Chelsea was understandable to a degree. The decision to send him on loan to Everton last year left the Blues reliant on a strikeforce of Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, with Lukaku outscoring each of them in the league, per Squawka. However, The Daily Mail's Joe Ridge revealed in December that Lukaku had requested the loan after missing the decisive penalty in the UEFA Super Cup, raising concerns about his attitude to the game.
Jose Mourinho confirmed that Lukaku’s mentality had played a big part in his departure, speaking to Martin Lipton at The Mirror:
The thinking was, first of all, the fact that Romelu was always very clear with us that in his mentality and his approach he was not highly motivated to come to a competitive situation at Chelsea. He wanted to play for Chelsea but clearly only as the first choice striker - and at a club of our dimension it’s very difficult to promise a player that status. That reduced, immediately, his desire to come to us.
It would be easy to lay the blame for the spat squarely with Mourinho, but Martin Lipton at The Mirror revealed that both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo harboured doubts about the striker’s work-rate.
Essentially, it appears that Lukaku was unable to match his dream to the reality of life at one of Europe’s elite clubs. While the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta have worked hard in training to prove themselves to the manager, Lukaku seemed to believe that he deserved that coveted first-choice striker role without challenge.
Mourinho is the last manager who will favour hype over hard work, and his ruthlessness in selling fan favourites Juan Mata and David Luiz proved as much. The fact that Lukaku was unable to see that — and adjust his expectations and work ethic accordingly — is why his Chelsea dream ended so acrimoniously.