ALVISE CAGNAZZO: Third time's a charm for Lukaku and Mourinho

ALVISE CAGNAZZO: After just eight games, Romelu Lukaku has scored SEVEN goals in a blistering start with Roma – it looks like third time’s a charm for both the Chelsea flop and head coach Jose Mourinho

  • The Special One and the Blues misfit have history at Chelsea and Man United
  • Only Gabriel Batistuta has a better opening record than the Belgian striker
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’ 

After a turbulent transfer window, Romelu Lukaku appears transformed from ugly duckling to splendid swan under the care of former manager Jose Mourinho at Roma. 

For the third time together, Lukaku and the Special One have finally rediscovered the harmony that was missing during their previous stints, first at Chelsea, then at Manchester United. 

The Portuguese coach – even in the latter stages of his career – always remains a great fascination for the top players, and Mourinho’s word still holds sway. After convincing Paulo Dybala 12 months ago to join the Roman club, this summer he dedicated himself to convincing Lukaku with very long phone calls and detailed messages.

The Belgian striker’s stats this season in Serie A are impressive, and are already outdoing his blistering season at Inter. The feeling is that at 30 years old, Lukaku has finally reached full maturity and full awareness of his physical and technical capabilities.

Five goals in six Serie A games, with an impressive average of 0.8 goals per game, suggest whilst he isn’t comparable to a goalscoring machine like Erling Haaland, he could score 25 goals this season, if he isn’t sidelined by injury.

Romelu Lukaku is enjoying a dreamlike start to his time at Roma under coach Jose Mourinho

Unwanted by Chelsea over the summer, the striker is experiencing a renaissance in Serie A

The Special One used all his powers of persuasion to tempt the 30-year-old to the capital

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Ferocious on the ball, Lukaku is capable of affecting Roma’s game in every phase of the match. He is probably the most suitable player to play in the side’s 3-5-2 formation, understanding the rhythms of the game innately. 

Only once since the 1994-95 season has a forward had a better debut than their new recruit, with Gabriel Batistuta scoring eight times in his first six starts. 

Mourinho’s last chance 

In Lukaku, Mourinho found the ideal player around whom he can build his team – and without him, he would have already been fired. 

Roma’s start in Serie A was disastrous and Tammy Abraham’s serious injury at the end of last season demanded that the club had to buy a centre forward who was immediately ready for the Italian championship. 

Dybala’s injury against Cagliari makes Lukaku’s presence even more important because, save for Andrea Belotti, he is the only centre forward capable of scoring and raising the level of the team’s attack.

For Mourinho, the Belgian striker represents his last chance to win in Europe as a coach before starting a different professional life, either at the helm of a foreign national team or in Saudi Arabia. 

At 60, he has coached the best players in the world, won the Champions League and experienced all kinds of triumphs – but Mourinho has also accepted the gradual fading of his footballing philosophies. 

Over the last five to six years, football in Europe has experienced a leap forward in terms of rhythm and tactical schemes, but Mourinho has never been keen on changing his mind, doggedly sticking with the counterattack as his number one priority. The move to 3-5-2 marks a cultural setback for a coach who has won titles with full-backs who become wingers in a four-man defence.

Speaking to DAZN, Lukaku extolled his relationship with Mourinho: ‘As I said in the past, the coach and I have a special relationship. 

‘He knows my family, he knows my children: he is someone I trust, as he does in me. He’s also tough, as other coaches have been in the past, but it’s the only way I can grow as a player.’

The head coach and his player have worked together previously at Chelsea and Man United

Lukaku could be a 25-goal striker this season – if he keeps himself fit and injury-free in Rome

The Belgium international and Andrea Belotti are the club’s primary sources of goals in Paulo Dybala’s absence

A perfect deal for both parties 

This summer’s transfer window was difficult for both Roma – who had little to spend – and for Lukaku, who after rejecting Saudi Arabia, was let down by an abortive move to Juventus. But today the former Chelsea star seems to be at 100 per cent, and his seven goals in eight games across all competitions is the perfect snapshot of his extraordinary strength. 

Despite the exile from Chelsea’s pre-season tour, Lukaku trained hard with a personal trainer and, following the rigorous diet and exercises of his winning era under Antonio Conte at Inter, quickly recovered his optimal physical condition.

Despite the usual fears about his fitness, Lukaku is in fine form, and most strongly resembles Dusan Vlahovic, whose heir he could have become, had he succumbed to fewer injuries. 

Roma has done efficient business bringing Lukaku to the Eternal City, even if the chances of his staying past the end of the season are close to nil. But his choice could depend on the continuing presence of Mourinho – as things stand, set to leave Roma on 30 June 2024 upon the expiry of his contract.


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