The story of a separation: How the Champions League final snub irreversibly strained the Lukaku-Inter relationship

With Romelu Lukaku heading back to Inter with new club AS Roma on Serie A Matchday 10 the Belgian suggests that his omission from the Champions League starting XI contributed to his failure to rejoin the Nerazzurri.

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On Matchday 10 of the 2023/24 Serie A campaign, AS Roma will travel to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza to face Inter with summer signing Romelu Lukaku expecting a hostile welcome from the Nerazzurri supporters, who had expected the striker to be wearing their colours again this season.

As detailed by La Gazzetta dello Sport, after being left out of the starting line-up for the 2023 Champions League final, the Belgian’s relationship with Inter soured. The Chelsea loanee then almost signed for Juventus, but was soon left with a very select number of options and ultimately ended up at Roma and reunited with Jose Mourinho.

The 30-year-old opened up on his recent struggles back in London ahead of his country’s 2024 European Champions qualifiers against Austria and Sweden, but rather than dwell on last season’s narrow defeat to Manchester City insisted he wants to do most of his talking on the pitch.

AS Roma striker Romelu Lukaku (@OfficialASRoma)

Did the Champions League snub break the Lukaku-Inter love in?

While Lukaku started on the substitutes bench, the former Manchester United attacker still managed a 35-minute cameo and was involved in the two biggest chances that fell to the Nerazzurri at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul, but sent a tame effort at goalkeeper Ederson and blocking a goal-bound effort from a teammate.

“I felt a bit uncomfortable after the Champions League final,” admitted the striker. “But my mind was unsettled because of what happened in the days leading up to it. I will talk about that later.”

“I’m like LeBron James. He’s played for a lot of years and has had to put up with a lot of things. But year after year he works hard and proves everyone wrong. I also respond on the pitch.”

AS Roma’s Romelu Lukaku celebrates. [@OfficialASRoma]

Why Lukaku expected to start the 2023 Champions League final

Although Napoli had run away with the 2022/23 Serie A title, during the final weeks of the season, Inter were in a fight for a Champions League qualification place and Lukaku played a crucial role in achieving that aim with goals against current employers Roma, Sassuolo and Atalanta.

The opening goal during the win over La Dea helped the Nerazzurri secure their place in this season’s Champions League and, a week later against Torino, he started alongside Lautaro Martinez. The Belgian assisted Marcelo Brozovic for the only goal of the game to secure third place. Those final weeks increased the belief that the Lu-La partnership would start in Turkey.

Romelu Lukaku in action for Inter against Manchester City in the Champions League final. (@Inter)

When Inter began their preparation for the showpiece event, the striker let the awaiting press know he felt he had done enough to receive the confidence of coach Simone Inzaghi, stating that, “the people are now seeing what I can do for the team, but I can’t just look at myself. Inter is more important and I want Inter to win; the coach will make his decisions.”

However, Lukaku accepted that he and Edin Dzeko would be fighting for a place alongside Martinez, but reiterated his desire for a Nerazzurri triumph: “I just want to enjoy the final, without pressure, enjoy the moment and go there to get the best possible result.”

Why did Dzeko start the Champions League final ahead of Lukaku?

Inter strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. [@Inter_en]

While eight goals in 14 appearances in all competitions meant that Lukaku was the most in-form of any of the Inter attackers in the two months before the team headed to Istanbul, Dzeko had helped secure progress from the group stages and started each of their knockout fixtures and viewed as a better tactical fit by coach Inzaghi.

In addition, the Belgian has admitted asking the Inter technical staff for an extra day of rest due to fatigue, after spending much of the campaign absent through injury, which was granted to him. However, by not asking for talks with Inzaghi to further clarify the request, it impacted the coach’s decision and ultimately led to a strained relationship between the pair, even if Inter looked to take Lukaku back to Milan last summer.

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