It was right around this time two years ago that Antonio Conte began his infamous and eventually very public (and eventually quite negatively impacting) break-up with a certain Diego Costa. That all came to a head in a possibly ill-advised text message from Conte to Costa, followed by yet another summer of drama, another season of strife, and plenty of palpable discord.
Chelsea later blamed it all on Conte when sacking him with just cause and without proper compensation — that whole nonsense is still ongoing among the lawyers — but the reality of the situation was undoubtedly far more complicated. Costa, for all his goals, never settled in London and had agitated for a move back to Madrid in most transfer windows. Conte meanwhile wanted someone who was less of a loose cannon but could still impact proceedings in the way Diego could, often winning games just through his own sheer power of will.
Fortunately, Chelsea had a plan. We would cash in on Costa (China or Spain) and bring back prodigal son Romelu Lukaku, The Chosen One, who had outgrown Everton by that point and already wanted to return the previous summer. But despite months and months of rumors and supposed interest from both parties and bids and promises, Lukaku ended up at Manchester United, and Chelsea collected a consolation prize in Alvaro Morata. While we had reports of Conte wanting and not wanting Lukaku and wanting and not wanting Morata — Michael Emenalo, who left a few months later, would then claim that it was Lukaku whom Conte really wanted (as did reporting from Matt Law in the immediate aftermath) — the one constant was that Conte was not happy with how the summer had been handled by the club. And then it all went downhill from there.
There is much more detail that we’re brushing over, but it’s interesting to keep those events in mind given the recent revelation (re-revelation) that Lukaku dumped his famous super-agent Mino Raiola back in the spring and apparently he did so specifically because of that transfer 180 between Chelsea and Manchester United in 2017.
(It should be noted that the Lukaku-Raiola situation may be more complicated than that, and may yet be valid still, in addition to his new representation.)
In any case, the claim of discord between striker and agent comes from ol’e Duncan Castles, Mourinho-insider (and thus much closer to another super-agent, Jorge Mendes, than Raiola, to be fair), speaking on his own podcast, The Transfer Window.
“From what I understand Lukaku basically got fed up with Raiola, the way he handled him. I’m told there was a misunderstanding of his move away from Everton, in that Lukaku thought that Raiola was conducting negotiations with Marina Granovskaia to do that deal, when in fact discussions were principally with Conte, who obviously wanted to bring Lukaku to the club.”
And another piece of the puzzle falls into place.
So basically, Lukaku wanted Chelsea, Conte wanted Lukaku, but Raiola engineered things so that Lukaku ended up at Manchester United instead (just like other Raiola clients Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba), who were more willing to pay the extra-exorbitant agent fees than Chelsea were. To do so, Raiola basically deceived his own client, while also (inadvertently) sabotaging Conte at Chelsea, and never actually negotiated with the person who actually holds transfer power at Chelsea (Granovskaia).
If any of that is true — it fits the facts — it would make perfect sense why Lukaku switched representation not long after. It would also be a sad reflection of just who holds the real power in modern football — FIFA’s proposal to reign-in agent fees is long overdue — while also giving rise to a sadly wistful “what could have been” scenario had Conte gotten his chosen man instead.