The spectre of Romelu Lukaku is a tough one to escape, and not just for Manchester United. As the striker, rumoured to be on his way out, remains unfit for Saturday’s pre-season game, speculation of his future remain abound. It may be mere coincidence that United play Inter Milan, the club that is expected to be the Belgian’s destination. Solskjaer had no updates on his striker’s future. But Antonio Conte minced no words when he spoke of his interest in the striker.
In Inter Milan’s press-conference, Conte was asked by the media present regarding Lukaku. His answer was diplomatic but his interest in the deal was clear. “He is a United player. I had tried to bring him to Chelsea when I was there. But the truth and reality is that he is a United player.”
“I have respect for United. I like this player and consider him an important player for us. But there is a market and we know our situation. We’ll see what happens. But he is a United player for now.”
Ten days into the pre-season, it is no surprise that Conte might be annoyed at the long-drawn negotiations. Having left behind former captain Mauro Icardi at home, there is a gaping hole in the final third. The Italian made it clear that “Icardi is out of Inter’s project.” But with Lautaro Martinez on holiday, it means Inter have to get in shape without a first-choice striker. Conte was clear when he said it wasn’t easy to train with a striker-less team.
Having already kickstarted the process of streamlining the squad, it is clear that there is some way to go. To buy, you will have to sell. The issue with Icardi may be tied to Lukaku; if Inter can seal a deal for the Belgian, that may pave the way for the Argentinian to possibly move to Juventus. Conte will surely want to get his striker in as early as possible.
In other news, Conte was questioned about the future of Ivan Perisic and his role in the squad. “Perisic is a player with specific characteristics and I want to understand if he'll be able to play in the position that I have in mind. We've got time to assess him and understand if he'll be able to do what I want from him." When asked about Radja Nainggolan, his answer was definitive: “he is not part of our project”.
Nicolo Barella was also present in the press conference, having joined from Cagliari only a week ago. Given that he joined up so late, it is natural that he’ll be lagging behind his teammates in terms of preparation. But he seems up for the challenge. “It’s all really exciting. Inter were eager to sign me and I’m happy to be here. I joined pre-season late but will try my best to catch up.”
Inter might be lagging behind Manchester United in terms of preparation, but Conte will see the game as the next step in implementing his ideas. Given that he considers his team behind schedule in terms of preparation, gametime is all the more crucial. However, as Lukaku sits on the bench, you can expect plenty of debate on his future during the game, as well as after it.