Romelu Lukaku was treated to the sort of fanfare more commonly reserved for rock stars when he touched down in Rome this week, hailed as Roma’s saviour ahead of their clash with rejuvenated AC Milan on Friday.
Belgium striker Lukaku might have only signed on loan for a season from Chelsea but that did not matter to the thousands of fans who caused chaos at Ciampino airport on Tuesday.
Flares were lit, chants were belted out and cars were damaged by supporters clambering up to catch a glimpse of Lukaku exiting the plane of Roma’s American chairman Dan Friedkin.
Around 50,000 supporters tracked Friedkin online as he flew his own aircraft from England to pick Lukaku up in Brussels and then down to Rome.
It was the sort of showbiz entrance that would have made Silvio Berlusconi proud, and no matter if Lukaku is a Chelsea outcast — as one banner at Ciampino made clear the 30-year-old has already been crowned the “new king of Rome”.
Billionaire businessman Friedkin, who lent his own Spitfire planes for the Hollywood blockbuster film Dunkirk, has an eye for the spectacular.
Two years ago he confounded everyone by hiring Jose Mourinho completely out of the blue and last summer Roma unveiled talisman Paulo Dybala in front of light shows and the fascistic headquarters of fashion house Fendi — nicknamed the ‘Square Colosseum’.
Lukaku’s arrival is a big boost to Roma not just because they had unsuccessfully rattled through a host of candidates for striker — Tammy Abraham’s long-term knee injury left them with only Andrea Belotti as a starting centre-forward — but also because the season has got off to a less than promising start.
Mourinho’s team have picked up one point from their first two matches and were a rare combination of both unlucky and awful in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Verona.
And there were few reasons to be optimistic for Friday’s visit of in-form Milan, especially with Dybala a doubt with yet another thigh knock.
Mourinho said last week that Roma are not in the battle for Serie A’s Champions League places but should Lukaku stay injury free and committed he has enough firepower to change that assessment.
Lukaku is unlikely to feature on Friday as the breakdown of his mooted permanent deal with Inter Milan after spending last season there on loan means he has not had a proper pre-season.
However Mourinho is back from a two-match suspension and will have to find the formula to stop Milan who, powered by some new faces, have got off to a flying start to the campaign.
USA attacker Cristian Pulisic, another former Chelsea man, has scored in both of Milan’s opening matches while Tijjani Reijnders and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have shone in a midfield which has lost Sandro Tonali to Newcastle United and Ismael Bennacer to a serious knee injury.
Milan’s American owners have fans firmly back on their side after the sacking of club icon Paolo Maldini as technical director and the sale of boyhood Milan fan Tonali caused a mini pre-season revolt.
The 2022 champions are level on a perfect six points with current Scudetto kings Napoli, who host a struggling Lazio side on zero points despite having opening matches against little Lecce and promoted Genoa.
Napoli don’t appear to be feeling the weight of the crown and have come charging out of the traps with aggression and a fluidity which has fans hopeful they could do what Diego Maradona never could and retain the title.
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