It was merely a matter of when, not if, Inter Milan would be confirmed as Serie A winners after clinching a routine 2-0 win over Crotone on Saturday. And Manchester United fans won’t need reminding that amongst the players who will be collecting their winners’ medals are three of their former players.
Antonio Conte’s side have lost just twice in a campaign where they have dominated without the faintest of challenges from the likes of Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan, who have been left to scrap for the remaining Champions League qualification places.
The title is never won until it’s won, of course, so there would have been relief and joy in equal measure when the moment of confirmation finally arrived, after Atalanta failed to beat Sassuolo on Sunday afternoon.
But to have knocked Juve off their perch and wrapped up their first Scudetto since the Treble-winning season under Jose Mourinho in 2009-10 with Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Ashley Young made it all the more remarkable.
The trio had been brushed aside into the cold at Old Trafford by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was keen to clear out the dead wood and build something for the future.
Lukaku had begun his career at Old Trafford with 27 goals in all competitions under Jose Mourinho, but only managed 15 the season after. When Solskjaer took over, he favoured Marcus Rashford as his leading man and it quickly became clear, at least to Lukaku, that he would not be part of the Norwegian’s vision.
“I had my conversation, told them it was better to go our separate ways,” he told The LightHearted Podcast shortly after his exit.
“If you don’t want to protect somebody, all these rumours come out. I just wanted you to say ‘Rom is going to fight for his place’, but it never happened for four, five months.
“It was all, ‘he’s got to go, he doesn’t deserve to be there’. Well okay, then I want to go now. There is fighting for your position, but also being somewhere that people want you to be.”
After securing his move away from Old Trafford in the summer of 2019, Lukaku certainly didn’t pull any punches. It felt as if there was some genuine hurt and frustration from his side about how he — along with Paul Pogba and Sanchez — were made to feel like "scapegoats."
Fast-forward 21 months. Lukaku is celebrating on the streets of Milan, waving an Inter flag out of his window and talking about how this year was the “best of my career”.
“I am so happy for all the Inter fans in the world, for the team, the staff, the President and everyone,” he told Sky Sport Italia.
“It was a wonderful year for us, I am truly proud to play for Inter. I wanted to come out here and celebrate along with the people. I told my friend this was the best way to experience it, to be there with the fans.
“For me and many of my team-mates, this is our first league title, so it’s a moment we wanted to share with them.
“Last year was good too, but yes, this was the best of my career. It’s wonderful and I hope to continue like this. I want to thank everyone, I am truly so happy.”
Lukaku has largely steered clear of injury, which hampered him at United after his £75 million move from Everton. He has made scored 27 goals in 41 appearances this season — 21 of those have come in Serie A. On nine occasions, he has managed to set up a team-mate to score.
The latter statistic somewhat makes a mockery of claims that the Belgian is selfish. Far from it. Lautaro Martinez must relish playing with a striker who has such awareness to pick him out — and vice versa.
It’s easy to suggest that United were wrong to let him go at the age of 25, especially when Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are struggling for goals. Few would agree the same applies to Sanchez and Young though, who were ageing and declining at a rapid rate.
But it seems that Lukaku has rediscovered his love for the game playing in Italy. And later on when his fellow United outcasts joined him at the San Siro, they too have enjoyed better moments under Conte’s tutelage.
Sanchez scored only three goals in a miserable 18-month spell in Manchester. This season alone, he’s notched five goals and registered five assists in 27 league matches.
Young had been a captain and regular starter under Solskjaer, but made just three appearances in three months before departing for Italy in January 2020.
Was it simply a case of showing them a bit more affection, or was Solskjaer justified in booting them out? Either way, Lukaku has achieved hero status with the Nerazzurri, while Young and Sanchez have both contributed on the way to this triumph; they no longer look back in anger.
But as Solskjaer still awaits his first trophy with the Red Devils, the Inter men will savour the moment when their medals are draped around their necks — when they could finally have the last laugh.
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