Former Inter Milan forward Alessandro Altobelli has heaped praise on Romelu Lukaku, bracketing the current Nerazzurri marksman with Europe’s elite crop of strikers, including Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe.
Lukaku, 27, has been the standout candidate in Inter’s exceptional run to the Serie A summit this season, with Antonio Conte’s side currently boasting an 11-point gap ahead of closest challengers AC Milan and a staggering 12 ahead of perennial champions Juventus.
That tantalising form has culminated in Inter winning each of their last 11 Serie A games, with only Roberto Mancini’s Nerazzurri in 2006/07 (17) and Juventus (three times: 12 in 2013/14 under Conte; 15 in 2015/16 and 12 in 2017/18 under Massimiliano Allegri) enjoying longer such runs in a single Serie A season.
Inter have been simply devastating since the turn of the year and that meteoric rise can be predominantly attributed to the lethal scoring exploits of Lukaku, who has notched 21 goals this season (and a further nine assists), which places him second behind Cristiano Ronaldo (25) in the Capocannoniere race for top scorer.
Not since 2011 has the Inter jersey been embellished with the highly-coveted scudetto, but Conte is closing in on ending that decade-long wait for Italian bragging rights, which would simultaneously break Juve’s nine-year monopoly in the process — and Lukaku has been the attacking linchpin behind the title charge.
His personal form is a far cry from the kind that saw him often criticised at Old Trafford during his Manchester United days. So much so that ex-Inter striker Altobelli, who sealed the Serie A title in 1980 and won the World Cup with Italy in 1982, believes Lukaku is now operating at a level comparable with the very best.
“At the beginning of the season, I thought he was an average player, but I was wrong,” Altobelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“Italy is the university of football. If you want to make a further step, you must play in Serie A.
“Lukaku is not only capable of scoring in any way and against any opponent, but he is also a great leader who helps the team. For me, he is on the same level as Lewandowski, Haaland and Mbappe.
“I was among the best strikers of my generation, and now the same is true of Romelu.”
Such a comparison is fitting when you consider Lukaku, Haaland and Mbappe have each netted 21 goals this season in their respective divisions, while Lewandowski has left them for dust with a whopping 35, but it is the Belgian who has registered the most assists (nine), bringing his total goal contributions to 30.
Conte: people turned their nose up when we signed Lukaku, but he’s extraordinary
When Inter secured the services of Lukaku for a club record fee of £74m in 2019 a few eyebrows were raised, given the season prior he netted just 12 Premier League goals, but the 91-capped Belgium international has more than vindicated his lofty price tag in the ensuring years.
His blossoming relationship with Conte has been the key factor, while the Italian’s relentless training methods, which Lukaka has previously likened to a “warzone”, have helped condition and mould him into a devastating scoring force of consistent substance.
Following Inter’s recent 2-1 win over Sassuolo earlier this month, in which Lukaku broke the deadlock, Conte was quick to highlight the importance of the striker to his system, while also levelling a veiled swipe at those who initially doubted his foresight when bringing him to Milan.
“I have not forgotten how a lot of people turned their nose up when we signed Lukaku and said he was overrated,” Conte said.
“But I always said that he arrived here with potential and that if he worked hard he could do extraordinary things.
“Lukaku has made exceptional improvements and can make even more.”