Heir to Aa Didier Drogba, Romelu Lukaku was once as raw as steak tartare or sushi.
But Chelsea legend Joe Cole believes the Belgian striker’s second coming to Stamford Bridge is a ‘bargain’ at £ 97.5million – and could send them back to another Champions League crown .
Where excitement at Manchester United is off the ladder following Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, Lukaku has already scored three goals on his Fulham Broadway recall.
And three-time title winner Cole believes Chelsea’s record signing – from a player they sold for £ 18million seven years ago – leaves them equipped to “stand side-to-side with the European giants ”.
The Blues open their Champions League defense against Zenit St. Petersburg tonight and BT Sport specialist Cole expects owner Roman Abramovich and Lukaku to be Two Rommies enjoying the last laugh.
He said: “Before the season everyone knew Chelsea were in the market for a No 9 – and realistically there were only five names that were going to cut him.
“You look at Lewandowski, Haaland, Mbappe, Ronaldo and Lukaku, all in the top bracket.
“None of them are cheap because they’re the best in the business, but when you break them down and look at the attributes Chelsea needed, Lukaku was a steal.
“We are talking about a confirmed goalscorer, who is 28 years old and is at the peak of his abilities. The complete package – pace, power, excellent in the air, a finisher, the lot.
“Why did he leave Chelsea in the first place? You can have the same conversation about Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah, but it’s no mystery about Lukaku’s return to the club.
“When you are European champions, to defend your title, you need the best players – here, now, not next week or next year.
“You can’t be like Tottenham or Arsenal, playing against players at 21 or 22 and looking to develop them over a few years – Chelsea need that firepower now.
“When he comes back to the end of his career, maybe Romelu will accept that he was not ready to lead the line for Chelsea eight or nine years ago, and that he had to make this trip to the houses to unleash its potential.
“But now is the right time for him to take on that responsibility, and he will give Chelsea that extra four or five percent that could help them win the Champions League again.”
Cole said manager Thomas Tuchel, who stepped in mid-last season and led Chelsea to their second Champions League triumph, has been “flawless” in his approach so far.
The German has lost just five of his 35 games in charge – two of them at the end of last season, when the title was gone – and Cole added: “Apart from Jose Mourinho’s first stint in the club, no one came and made such a big impact at Chelsea like Tuchel.
“He was absolutely faultless. He’s already a Chelsea legend and a Champions League winner – now he has to put the finishing touches on the masterpiece.
“We are heading into another golden age of Premier League football where the title race is a battle between three or four clubs – and English clubs dominate in Europe.”
* BT Sport is the exclusive football headquarters of the UEFA Champions League. Watch every match of the 2021/22 competition live on TV, online and on the BT Sport app. Visit btsport.com