Rome (AFP) – Romelu Lukaku is set to sign for Chelsea from Inter Milan in a deal worth up to 115 million euros ($135 million), according to widespread reports in Italian media on Sunday.
Chelsea have been pursuing Lukaku since it became clear the European champions would not be able to prise Erling Braut Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, but Inter had been holding out on letting their star striker go.
However, now Inter are preparing to offload the Belgium forward for a fee which comes close to the record paid by a British club just days after Manchester City laid out £100 million (118 million euros) to sign England international Jack Grealish from Aston Villa.
Lukaku, who fired Inter to last year’s Serie A title — their first since 2010 — was initially keen to stay in Italy after becoming a huge fan favourite under previous coach Antonio Conte.
Last month the 28-year-old told official club channel Inter TV that he wanted to “achieve even more than last year” after scoring 24 league goals in the 2020/21 campaign and being voted player of the season.
However the Gazzetta Dello Sport reports that the 28-year-old changed his mind and now wants to return to Chelsea, where, after signing from Anderlecht in 2011, he failed to make an impression ahead of a star-studded roll call of forwards which included his idol Didier Drogba.
Italian broadcaster Sky Sport reports that Inter are lining up one of Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata and Edin Dzeko to replace Lukaku, Bosnia striker Dzeko having come close to leaving Roma for the Milan club in January.
– Inter’s difficult summer –
The departure of Lukaku has angered Inter fans who are experiencing a difficult summer, with supporters expected to protest against the sale during Inter’s friendly at Parma on Sunday evening, in which he will not feature.
Coach Conte walked away from Inter last month with a year still left on his contract following clashes with the club’s cash-strapped Chinese owners.
Conte, who was replaced with Simone Inzaghi, refused Suning’s planned cost-cutting which would have prevented him building the team he wanted to challenge at home and in Europe.
Inter have already sold maurading wing-back Achraf Hakimi, a key figure in the title win, to Paris Saint-Germain for a reported initial 60 million euros, after just one season in Italy.
Earlier in the year the three-time European champions had to delay by three months payment of the first installment of the 40 million-euro fee agreed with Real Madrid for Hakimi last summer.
Inter made losses of 100 million euros in the 2019/20 season mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic which has caused havoc to club finances across Europe.
According to finance company Deloitte, revenues in Serie A that season were down 18 percent, the biggest drop of Europe’s top five leagues.
The Suning Group, which owns Inter, shut down their Chinese club Jiangsu FC in February just months after it won the Chinese Super League title.
In May Suning obtained financing worth 275 million euros ($336 million) with US investment firm Oaktree Capital designed to get the club through its current financial strife.
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