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Romelu Lukaku exclusive: Italy improved me as a player, but right time for Chelsea move

Romelu Lukaku re-joined Chelsea from Inter Milan for a club-record fee last week; The striker is set to make his second Chelsea debut on Sunday, when Thomas Tuchel's side travel to Arsenal, live on Sky Sports from 4pm; kick-off 4.30pm

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Romelu Lukaku says working under Antonio Conte at Inter Milan helped him overcome self-doubt and he sees himself as a leader on his return to Chelsea

Romelu Lukaku has a serene-like quality as he sits down for an exclusive chat with Sky Sports. He looks healthy, calm and composed as he gives Geoff Shreeves an in-depth insight into his history at Chelsea, why Italy was the right move and how now is the right time to play for his boyhood club...

It's not a secret that Lukaku was a childhood fan of Chelsea, looking up to iconic players such as Didier Drogba, who he maintains contact with to this day.

"We spoke a few days ago and we spoke about that time [when Lukaku was previously at Chelsea] and about the progress that I've made and what I have to keep improving - keeping the same hunger all the time," Lukaku revealed.

"The thing about Didier is that he's a very detailed individual. Thierry Henry is also very detailed and it's the details that make the difference. We talk about individual exercises that I like, what's the goal of each exercise and we talk about those things, but also about trying to win because that's the thing that matters.

"He's a winner in every sense of the word and that's the thing I want to achieve for this football club."

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Romelu Lukaku says he is determined to win titles on his return to Chelsea as he reveals discussions with former team-mate Didier Drogba

But of course, it was not the dream move to Chelsea he would have hoped for at 18 years old. Lukaku moved around the Premier League and then to Inter Milan, where he credits Antonio Conte for a complete change in his approach to football.

The pressure of scoring goals, the price tags and false starts bore a weight on the Belgian's shoulders, but they seemed to melt away out of the pressure cooker of English football.

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When asked by Shreeves if his first departure from Chelsea in July 2014 hurt him as a fan of the club, Lukaku replied: "Yeah it did. I wrote a piece about last summer for the first time about what football can do sometimes on the metal side.

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Romelu Lukaku meets the Chelsea fans and trains with his new team-mates at an open training session at Stamford Bridge

"That's something that I had on the back of my shoulders for many years. It was a source of motivation at the time, but also asking myself questions like 'what went wrong?'. I was living with that for many years and that's why sometimes, I could come over as a bit aggressive in interviews, or very defensive.

"At one point, I just decided it was better to go somewhere else and just see everything from a different point of view. When I went to Italy, it was the best thing I could've done at the time.

"There were questions. I knew I had the ability, but why not? It was always just not. When I think about my performances with Everton, missed penalties, or United games or whatever. Or when I was here [at Chelsea] and I'd get an opportunity and it wouldn't go well - it was always just not. Maybe it was because I put too much [pressure].

"When I went to Italy, it's where, under the guidance of Antonio Conte, I learnt what it took to go and break that barrier. When we did win [the Serie A title] last year, you could se the emotions in my face.

"For me, it was ten years of hard work, with a lot of ups and downs, but in the end, it was good. Coming into my prime years, I know myself and I know what it takes. I know how to be a leader and what it takes to help my team.

"Technically, I have improved because before, back to goal was not really my thing, I didn't like it, I didn't enjoy it. I'm more of a guy that likes to run in behind, find tight spaces and take players on.

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"But as soon as I started getting better with my back-to-goal play, it was better for me because I could score more goals but I could also create more for my team-mates, so my assists went up and I became a more complete player.

"Tactically, I see the game totally different. I'm really interested in the movements some players make. So for the last week, I've been watching the last seven or eight games of the team and try to know what the movements and what the coach is trying to expect from us in every game, so when I come in, I can just move."

But it's not just in Italy where Lukaku has nurtured and developed the improvements in his game. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez - who signed the striker for Everton in 2014 after a successful loan spell - has also shown his faith in Lukaku on the international stage.

The 28-year-old reflected: "I realised there was a change and people saw me differently was when I started captaining Belgium for a few games when Eden [Hazard] was not there, or Jan Vertonghen wasn't there.

Roberto Martinez coached Romelu Lukaku at Everton and his now his national team manager
Image: Roberto Martinez coached Romelu Lukaku at Everton and is now his national team manager

"That's when I thought 'Roberto Martinez was there with me since I was 20 years old, and he's seen the steps I've been making as a player on the mental side', of course on the football side, he was there to see it.

"When he gave me the captaincy for a few games when Eden and Jan weren't there, that's when I knew I'd made the next step in my career where I'm seen as a leader and also make a difference for my team at the same time.

"At the end of the day, I'll let my football do the talking, but I think I can add something different to this team because this team is very strong. But hopefully I can add and help the guys out."

But now, all attentions have turned back to his footballing love - Chelsea. He signed for £97.5m - a club record fee - and has been touted as the man to help Thomas Tuchel's side compete for the Premier League trophy, as well as defending their Champions League title.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Chelsea's win against Crystal Palace in the Premier League

The move has all the feeling of a serendipitous, stars-aligning moment for Lukaku to make his triumphant return to Stamford Bridge and fire them to countless glories. But why does Lukaku feel like it is his time at Chelsea?

"I think the move could have happened a few years ago when I was 23 or 24, but looking back, you have to be honest with yourself, and I don't know if it would have had the same impact like I have now," he said.

"Now is the right time. I'm much more mature, much more aware of the stuff happening on the football pitch, I'm a father outside of it as well now so I have a lot more responsibility. Leadership skills, I achieved that, now I just have to let my work on the pitch do the talking.

"I'm ready. If you look at my last three transfers, it's basically the same story all the time. Now here, it is the same thing, so why should I put unnecessary pressure? I know the drill, I've been in the game for 12 years, I know the expectations.

Romelu Lukaku's stats for Inter in their 2020/21 Serie A season

"So it doesn't make sense to me to start overthinking stuff. Football just stays football. I'm a very self-motivated guy, I'm a guy that's very intelligent in the how to prepare my game and find a way to help my team. The only thing for me is to drive to win even more, because after winning last year, why should it stop now? So I want to keep doing that.

"It's all about preparation and now I'm just trying to prepare myself in the best way possible. Physically, I'm fit and those two years in Italy helped me to get better physically, getting stronger.

"I can't wait. I'm very excited because the Premier League has improved, all the team got better, the players got better so it's going to be a very competitive year this year."

And if Lukaku could follow the likes of Drogba, John Terry and Frank Lampard into Chelsea legend?

Chelsea's Didier Drogba celebrates after the Barclays Premier League match at The King Power Stadium, Leicester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday April 29, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Leicester. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.
Image: Chelsea's Didier Drogba was Romelu Lukaku's idol when growing up

"It would mean the world to me. I said I wanted to do this as a child and now I'm here, I'm going to the training ground every day with the same determination to help my team win games. That's the only thing that matters.

"Yes, you want to score the goals and things like that, but at the end of the day, winning matters. That was the mindset I had to have to win, because before it was all about scoring goals, but when you don't win, the respect is not the same. That's where I thought 'if I start winning now, I will really be fulfilled'."

Lukaku will have his first chance to test his new winning mindset when Chelsea travel to Arsenal in the Premier League, live on Sky Sports, this Sunday. However, this time, the striker will likely take the pressure all in his stride.

Essential Football Podcast: Will Lukaku get off to a flyer for Chelsea at Arsenal? Plus: Pogba's best role for Man Utd and the lowdown on Watford's new stars

After a blockbuster opening weekend of the Premier League we're gearing up to go again, with Arsenal vs Chelsea a headline fixture and set to feature the Blues' new striker Romelu Lukaku. Peter Smith is joined by Gerard Brand, Adam Smith, Nick Wright, and Ron Walker to look ahead to another big round of games...

PART 1: Will Romelu Lukaku fire Chelsea to a Premier League title challenge? And are Arsenal really in crisis? We assess both sides who go into a London derby in contrasting moods.

PART 2: Paul Pogba starred in Man Utd's win over Leeds with four assists - so how does Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keep getting performances like that out of him? And with Raphael Varane primed for his debut, do Man Utd now have all the pieces in place to become champions?

PART 3: Watford returned to the Premier League in style with a 3-2 win over Aston Villa on the opening weekend. We tell the story behind some of their new signings and examine their prospects this term. Plus we hear how a drive down the M6 was transformative for Brighton defender Shane Duffy…

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