It’s a transfer that’s gone from farfetched to nailed on in the space of a week: Inter’s Romelu Lukaku is on the verge of returning to Chelsea seven years after he left the club.
Just a fortnight after Inter CEO Beppe Marotta described the striker as ‘untouchable’, Chelsea have agreed a €115m (£97.5m) deal to take him back to Stamford Bridge.
Blues owner Roman Abramovich and head coach Thomas Tuchel had both sanctioned the pursuit of an elite striker following the squad’s struggles in front of goal last season, and the club’s negotiators turned their attentions to Lukaku when talks over a £135m move for Borussia Dortmund frontman Erling Haaland reached an impasse.
90min revealed on Monday that Chelsea had stayed in constant contact with Inter over Lukaku this summer, and in the space of just six days the deal has accelerated at lightning pace, with only the formalities left to complete before the 28-year-old becomes a Chelsea player for the second time.
The striker is due to undergo a medical in Belgium on Sunday before travelling to London within 24 hours to be unveiled. Part of the standard admin that will follow will be selecting a squad number – something that will have some fans on tenterhooks and others giving a Patridge-like shrug of disdain.
Nevertheless, that’s the kind of s**t that matters to some of us, so what are the options available to Lukaku once he’s signed on the dotted line? Well, it’s certainly complicated by the sheer amount of deadwood at Chelsea that is likely to be hacked away by the end of the summer, but it’s clear he will have his eyes on one shirt in particular.
The forward wore 18 in his first spell at the club, while donning 20, 17 and ten while on loan at West Brom and Everton respectively. However, for the past four years at both Man Utd and Inter, Lukaku has worn the number nine.
Tammy Abraham is the current incumbent at Stamford Bridge, but with the England international likely to leave the club – potentially even as part of a merry-go-round as Inter look to replace Lukaku – his squad number could be freed up imminently. Christian Pulisic won’t relinquish the ten.
In the unlikely scenario that Abraham ends up staying, there are a whole host of numbers semi-occupied by Chelsea’s returning loan army that could be suitable for the man leading the line, depending on just how much of a purist you are.
Ross Barkley is unlikely to be around long enough to retain his eight, Ruben Loftus-Cheek could well leave to free up 12, number 15 Kurt Zouma is expected to depart, as are 21 and 23 – Davide Zappacosta and Michy Batshuayi.
Numbers 25, 26 and 27 are all currently free – although youngster Tino Anjorin has worn the latter in pre-season – but Lukaku is unlikely to want to go that high (unlike Jadon Sancho at Man Utd).
Realistically, should the nine be off limits, you’d imagine there are only two back-up options that will stand out for the Belgian: 14 and 18. He wore the former during his final two seasons with Anderlecht before his initial move to Chelsea, while the latter was his squad number throughout his first spell at Stamford Bridge.
Those digits are technically occupied by returning loanees Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ethan Ampadu at present, but you wouldn’t expect either of them to still be at the club come the end of the transfer window.