About a month ago, on June 6th, after Belgium’s friendly against the Czech Republic, Romelu Lukaku confirmed to journalists in the mixed zone that he’s reached “an agreement” with a Champions League club. While he wouldn’t reveal whether that was Chelsea or Manchester United, he more or less confirmed the former with a wink and a smile. Soon after, Manchester United switched targets to Álvaro Morata and Cristiano Ronaldo and whoever else.
But just like United’s search for a new center forward, Chelsea’s search has stalled ever since. While Chelsea rarely sign players before July, the Lukaku deal looked all but confirmed a month ago. So what’s the hold-up?
The Mirror, in their classic tabloid-y style, put it down to Diego Costa being a little trouble-maker, an “exacting his revenge” on Conte and Chelsea by making his own exit as difficult as possible and thus holding-up the Lukaku deal. Sounds plausible enough, especially if we want to believe that there are no good men in football and everyone behaves and operates on a 12-year-old level , but it’s unlikely to be the real reason.
Chelsea have quite obviously been planning for a Costa exit for some time, whether by virtue of pushing him to China, or thanks to Costa himself wanting out, or because of Conte not wanting him — theories differ, pick your favorite — and while no one planned on text-gate, that only changed the parameters of a potential deal, not the eventual outcome itself. Chelsea undoubtedly rue not being able to cash Costa in for £70m+ of Chinese football money anymore, but there’s plenty in the war chest these days to finance a Lukaku return. We’ll get some amount out of Atléti and that will be that.
There is of course a difference between being able to pay £100m for Lukaku and being willing to pay £100m. And Chelsea are quite clearly not willing to meet that outrageous valuation from Everton, or we would’ve done so by now. Chances are that Lukaku will still cost us a club record amount, but at least it won’t be a world record.
As Chelsea figure out the amount we’d be comfortable with, Everton have already signed a replacement in Málaga’s Sandro Ramírez and have been one of the more active teams in the market overall with big-money signings of Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaasen, and Michael Keane. Everton do have new owners who have made a strong commitment to investing in the club, but it would appear that they are also confident in collecting a large windfall from Chelsea for Lukaku as well.
Amidst all that, Lukaku, like most other players and managers, has been on holiday for most of June, though unlike most players, he’s perhaps on a slightly extended break thanks to his involvement in Belgium’s post-season friendlies. Whenever he does return from living the high-life in LA, things will probably get moving once again. His mind to leave Everton seems to (finally) be made up; it’s just a matter of Chelsea and Everton agreeing on a deal.
So what’s Diego Costa got to do with all that? Absolutely nothing. In fact, Chelsea even briefed repeatedly through the usual channels that a Lukaku deal is not dependent on anything related to Costa, and that was before the Costa situation devolved into this current irreparable mess.
So while Costa being an evil little so-and-so does make for good headlines — plus, they’ve got to get their last #CostaCrimes licks in before he departs for Spain — the boring reality of the situation is that everything is probably just moving slowly as they often do in the transfer window.
P.S.: On a slightly related note, the Instagrams of both Lukaku and Costa have been hilarious these last few days, with contrasting lifestyles of Big Rom’s LA adventures and Costa’s low-brow shenanigans back in Brazil.