If one of the small numbers makes it to “Gigante buono”, the good-natured giant, a lot has gone well. When the Belgian Romelu Lukaku, 1.91 meters tall and 93 kilograms, switched to Inter Milan a year and a half ago, the Italian club with the greatest urge to self-pity, the transfer fee in particular was the subject of discussion: 67.2 million euros. Inter had never spent so much on signing a player. And because the newcomer was not without controversy at his former employer Manchester United, because some people there had doubted his suitability for the big stage, straight ahead and against the power of statistical arguments, the astonishment was doubly great. But Lukaku has made it: “Gigante buono” – that’s how the great Giacinto Facchetti, glory of the club, elegant and loved, was once called. You can’t get more appreciation.
Although Inter is on the verge of elimination in the fifth group game against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Tuesday evening, with only two points so far, it would still not occur to anyone to look to Lukaku of all places. On the contrary: If, contrary to all forecasts, something should still go for the Italians, for a last glimmer of hope, then everything will again be due to his big, powerful appearance.
Lukaku is one of those players who with their sheer presence can control a full third of the pitch. His comrades play him with long passes, that doesn’t have to be very precise, and they then trust that the “pivot” in the storm, this fulcrum in the distance, will get the ball out of the air with the Head or chest, and quickly pushes it to the ground, covers, cherishes and rowing with the arms so that no opponent gets to the leather – until the other players move up.
Lukaku versus Ibrahimovic: The former colleagues are now fighting a Milan city duel
This is Lukaku’s contribution to the game, besides scoring goals. Basically, it’s his only role, the role of a classic nine. Everything is more complicated in the lowlands of competing legs.
Lukaku from Molenbeek near Brussels, the son of a footballer, has spent most of his career in England, where they invented this quick shift to the pivot as a fix for poor play structure: three years at Chelsea, which in between loaned him to West Bromwich Albion; four years at Everton; two years at Man United.
In Manchester he also met the man who, by a coincidence in his life, is now contesting his position as half king of the city in Milan, at the age of 39 and the bite of an insatiable twenty year old: Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan is currently leading the series’ top scorer A at.
“Ibra” once said to his colleague Lukaku when he came to Manchester: “I’ll give you 50 pounds for every ball you can stop.” It is not known how seriously he meant it, with Ibrahimovic it’s always a mixture of daring megalomania and subtly hinted at fun act. In any case, Lukaku had the reputation at the time that he tripped far too many balls for him to be counted among the really big ones. Although his goalscoring rate has always been quite considerable: in the Belgian national team, for example, with 57 goals in 89 games, he is now the best goalscorer in history, at the age of 27. Nevertheless, the doubts about his technical abilities, about the feeling in the foot, always clouded the overall assessment of the player.
That has now changed in Milan, quite fundamentally, and his technique has also improved. Inter coach Antonio Conte swears by Lukaku, the Belgian is a perfect match for his elementary, controlled football. Conte doesn’t like fantastic teammates who suddenly turn on the light in a game with a trick, with a trick or a little bit out of nowhere, like the playmaker Christian Eriksen could do, for example: The Dane they brought from Tottenham Hotspur, mostly leaves Conte in the bank, even though the club pays a lot of money for him. Conte prefer players who follow his tactical instructions, just as soldiers follow orders from a general. “Big Rom” is one of them, too, with the grade of a high officer.
Inter are “Lukaku-dipendente”, they say in Italy, so fate often depends solely on the attacker’s performance and goals. In a duo with the Argentinian Lautaro Martinez, who on good days whirls around Lukaku like a dervish and provides him with a thousand passports, they form the so-called “Lu-La-Land” storm – a creative, meaningful but quite enigmatic reference to the media the film “La La Land”. It works well in the championship: Inter are second, but five points behind Milan.
Lukaku managed a small personal revenge on Ibrahimovic last February: Shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic, Inter won what is probably the most exciting Milan derby in recent years after a long deficit with a furious 4-2 final. “The city has a new king,” Lukaku then posted on social media. It was an “Ibra” -style post, a bit chubby, and it didn’t want to fit in with the gentle, humble nature of the Belgian.
Lukaku is popular in Italy, he speaks Italian astonishingly well, he already speaks eight languages. And he loves his mother so much and so obviously that it warms every Italian’s heart. Lukaku recently said in a moving interview that she stands for everything he has become. When the family sometimes lacked money, there was always enough food for the children because the parents did without it. He never forget that. Those who have suffered hunger fear nothing more than hunger: no pressure, no criticism.
When the “Gigante buono” scores a goal, he forms an A with his hands. It stands for Adolphine, the Mamma.