Romelu Lukaku is set for possibly the most hostile reception of his career when he returns to the San Siro to face Serie A leaders Inter Milan on a bumper Sunday in which champions Napoli host AC Milan.
Now at on loan at Roma from Chelsea, Lukaku will be blasted by 50,000 whistles distributed by Inter’s hardcore fans who will lead an assault on the ears of a former hero they now consider a traitor.
Lukaku is guilty in the fans’ eyes of abandoning Inter not once, but twice, and it was the manner of his second exit in the summer which definitively turned supporters against him.
The Belgium striker was once an idol, winning Serie A in 2021 before being sold to Chelsea that summer for well over 100 million euros, as a club weighed down by debts tried desperately to get their accounts in order.
It was Inter who extracted him from Chelsea on loan last year after a dreadful season in the Premier League, his time at the Blues over even if they are still technically his club.
Despite a difficult return to Italy dogged by injuries, in which he largely played second fiddle to Edin Dzeko, Inter then vowed to try and sign him permanently, offloading Andre Onana for 55 million euros in an attempt to raise funds.
However just as Inter were closing in on a deal with Chelsea, Lukaku vanished, not answering calls and even making noises towards Milan and Juventus, Inter fans’ fiercest rivals.
It was that manoeuvre which definitively soured relations between Lukaku and both fans and club – whose hierarchy were livid – with even Lautaro Martinez publicly saying that he was “hurt” by his former striker partner’s behaviour.
“After all we’ve been through over the years, all the things we’ve experienced, I was disappointed,” he said at the time.
Martinez has firmly put the affair behind him however, the Argentina striker netting 12 goals in as many matches in all competitions in a blistering start to the season alongside new attacking ally Marcus Thuram.
Lukaku too is having a positive start to life in Rome after being welcomed to the capital by thousands of fans in August and being reunited with his former coach at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho.
Seven goals in nine appearances between Serie A and the Europa League have been a bright spot for Roma, who are seventh and only three points off the Champions League spots despite a tricky opening few months which have featured a raft of injuries.
Roma will be missing talisman Paulo Dybala and midfielders Lorenzo Pellegrini and Renato Sanches for the trip north, while Mourinho is also suspended after being sent off at the end of Sunday’s last-gasp 1-0 win over Monza.
Mourinho could not resist goading Inter fans on Wednesday, telling reporters that “I didn’t know he was so important to them”.
“He won a league title and come cups, something that something like 200 players have done in Inter’s history,” he said.
Inter have a great chance to extend their one-point lead on Milan who take on a Napoli side buoyed by Tuesday’s 1-0 win at Union Berlin which boosted their hopes of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League.
Milan will still be licking their wounds from a humbling 3-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain and are struggling for goals, with just one scored in their last four matches.
Napoli trail Inter by five points but have reacted well to losing star striker Victor Osimhen with a hamstring injury and Milan present an opportunity to show they can do it against Italy’s leading lights.