The big Belgian was a statement signing, a massive cherry on top of a Champions League-winning cake, Chelsea were a world-class striker short of domination and now they had it.
Of course, he took the number 9 jersey because that’s simply what strikers do, without regard for the negative history surrounding that jersey for Chelsea in their 30 years of Premier League involvement.
10 months later, the Belgian striker is on his way back to Inter with his tail firmly tucked between his legs after a dismal season which saw him score 15 goals in 44 games.
Lukaku falls to the curse
Another number 9 has bitten the Stamford Bridge dust, making Lukaku the 13th of 16 players to have flopped while donning that jersey number for Chelsea.
To say the Chelsea number 9 is cursed may come across as too dramatic but even the most logical human being can admit that these are too many flops for this to still be a mere coincidence.
If Lukaku never plays for Chelsea again, he would be the seventh number nine to have left the club one season into their permanent contract… still not a curse?
Let us take a look at all 16 players to have worn the famous number 9 jersey for Chelsea since the Premier League era began 30 years ago and how they have all fared with the cursed jersey.
The Chelsea number 9s of the 90s
Irish international striker Tony Cascarino was the first to don the number 9 shirt for Chelsea in the Premier League era and boy did he set a bad precedent.
The striker only managed eight goals in 40 games across two seasons, not at all impressive and would ultimately become typical of a Chelsea number 9, petition to rename this the “Cascarino curse”?
Mark Stein and Gianluca Vialli followed and while the former did just about enough to avoid the flop tag, the latter was a bonafide Chelsea legend.
Curse-related activities resumed in full flow with Chelsea’s next number, Chris Sutton arrived from Blackburn in 1999 with a huge reputation and for £10 million (big money at the time) but only scored once and failed to outlast the first season.
The curse would then skip Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who had four good years at the club and manifest fully on the next guy, poor Mateja Kezman who only managed four goals in his solitary season at Stamford Bridge.
Hernan Crespo replaced Kezman and had a better time than most give him credit for, with 13 goals across all competitions to help Chelsea retain the Premier League title but he wouldn’t have another season in blue.
The next two seasons would see Chelsea try out something very weird in an attempt to beat this curse, centre-back Khalid Boulahrouz and midfielder Steve Sidwell would both wear number 9 between 2006 and 2008 and of course neither of them survived beyond one season.
Academy graduate Franco Di Santo was thrown in the firing line next but the poor kid never had a chance, managing just eight appearances in the 2008/09 season and failing to score after which he was shipped out on loan never to be seen again.
In the last decade, Chelsea became more intentional about breaking the curse with big-name centre forwards arriving in droves but they all met the same fate.
Fernando Torres’ arrival in 2011 was Abramovich’s first attempt to dare the curse, having paid a British record £50 million for a player who at the time was one of the world’s best strikers.
Well, the bigger they came the harder they fell at Stamford Bridge, Torres would go down in history as one of the biggest flops having scored 45 goals in 172 appearances in four seasons at the club.
Radamel Falcao would be the next victim, another striker with a big reputation but waning abilities, the Colombian only played 10 games on loan and scored once in the 2015/16 season.
Another record signing soon followed, another Spanish striker with ties to Madrid, surely someone should have connected the dots that Alvaro Morata was simply another Fernando Torres.
Morata cost more than his Spanish predecessor at £71 million but somehow managed to flop harder than Torres and even switched numbers from 9 to 29 but the curse was just too strong.
Gonzalo Higuain followed in 2019 with a forgettable six-month loan spell, the Argentine played 18 games and scored five goals for Maurizio Sarri’s team.
Another homegrown talent would take on the number 9 jersey in 2019 and Tammy Abraham fared much better than Franco Di Santo, the last Cobham product to wear it.
Abraham put up a valiant fight with 18 goals in his first season but a weak follow-up season and the sacking of Frank Lampard proved to be his undoing, the curse was ultimately too strong in the end.
Abraham would get shipped off to Roma to be replaced by Romelu Lukaku, the most recent victim of Chelsea’s number 9 curse which makes one wonder who’s next to try and if anyone would ever beat it as Hasselbaink did all those years ago? Only time will tell.