Antonio Conte 'trashed' Romelu Lukaku in front of his team-mates early on at Inter Milan but then made him feel loved and turned him into the complete forward... Now the Belgian must score against his mentor's Spurs side to return to favour at Chelsea   

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Football works in mysterious ways. As Romelu Lukaku seeks to restore favour with the Chelsea fans after his little outburst, he must do so against the coach he admires the most.

Having apologised for expressing his unhappiness at his current situation at Stamford Bridge, Lukaku knows he could do with scoring a goal or two against Tottenham on Wednesday night.

Nothing gets you back onside with irritated fans more quickly than a match-winning performance against your bitterest rivals, especially in a cup semi-final.

Romelu Lukaku (left) and Antonio Conte (right) had a great relationship at Inter Milan

Romelu Lukaku (left) and Antonio Conte (right) had a great relationship at Inter Milan

Romelu Lukaku (left) and Antonio Conte (right) had a great relationship at Inter Milan 

The Belgian striker credits the Italian coach with reviving his career in two years at San Siro

The Belgian striker credits the Italian coach with reviving his career in two years at San Siro

But Lukaku will surely wish his shot at redemption didn't come with Antonio Conte standing in the opposition dug-out. After all, the Italian spoke of his 'great affection' for the striker just a couple of days ago.

It was Conte who got Lukaku's career back on track at Inter Milan following the 'tunnel' he found himself in at Manchester United, Conte who figured out how to get the maximum out of his game and Conte who helped him win a first trophy since he was a teenager at Anderlecht.

Little wonder that cheeky but outlandish reports emerged in Italy this week suggested Lukaku would try to force a reunion with Conte at Tottenham.

There is a great mutual respect between the pair that is unlikely to be replicated between Lukaku and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel.

Lukaku expressed his unhappiness at Thomas Tuchel's formation in an interview last week

Lukaku expressed his unhappiness at Thomas Tuchel's formation in an interview last week

The £98million striker apologised for giving the unauthorised interview to Sky Italia

The £98million striker apologised for giving the unauthorised interview to Sky Italia  

Their time at Inter coincided perfectly and Lukaku's return of 64 goals in 95 appearances over their two seasons working together says everything about their positive relationship.

Conte had been desperate for Chelsea to follow up their Premier League title win in 2017 by bringing Lukaku back to the club from Everton.

It can be viewed as the beginning of the end for the Italian at Stamford Bridge when Man United won the race to sign the Belgian instead.

'I think maybe we lost the momentum to bring Chelsea to the very top and then to stay for many years,' Conte would later admit.

So when the opportunity arose to bring Lukaku to Inter in the summer of 2019, the ferocity of Conte's convictions even left the club's hierarchy stunned. They shelled out a club record £74m to back up their new manager.

Lukaku had lost his way under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and needed a change

Lukaku had lost his way under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United and needed a change

Conte was determined that Inter should sign Lukaku and they paid a club record £74m fee

Conte was determined that Inter should sign Lukaku and they paid a club record £74m fee

By then, Lukaku's conviction in himself had been dented by two tough seasons at Old Trafford, mostly under Jose Mourinho, who didn't fully value his qualities.

Despite 42 goals in a red shirt, it's fair to say Lukaku never scaled the heights, used as little more as a battering ram centre forward and widely dismissed in England as a flat-track bully.

Conte changed all that but not before a few home truths. One early game saw Inter held at home by Slavia Prague in the Champions League and Conte tore into Lukaku in front of the whole dressing room.

'He told me that I was really trash and that he would take me off after five minutes if I would have done it again,' Lukaku later told Sky Sports.

Whereas there was usually no way back from the wrong side of Mourinho, Lukaku responded to the criticism in precisely the way Conte hoped by scoring in the Milan derby four days later.

Conte gave Lukaku some home truths early on at Inter but then totally overhauled his game

Conte gave Lukaku some home truths early on at Inter but then totally overhauled his game

The rewards soon arrived for Lukaku as he added extra attributes to his attacking game

The rewards soon arrived for Lukaku as he added extra attributes to his attacking game

'He stepped on my confidence but it woke me up at the same time. He does it to everybody, it doesn't matter who you are,' Lukaku said. 'Everybody is equal.

'It had never really happened to me before. The manager, he tells it straight to your face if you're doing well or wrong.'

This tied in with an intensity of preparation that Lukaku had never encountered before. Conte set the nutritionist on him and Lukaku told his agent the conditioning work in training left him 'suffering.'

That translated into better performances on the pitch, where Conte's favoured system also suited Lukaku's style of playing.

Used often as a lone striker at United, now he had support in a 5-3-2 shape and this unlocked all manner of other attacking attributes that had been concealed in English football.

Lukaku formed a great understanding with Lautaro Martinez, right down to the celebrations

Lukaku formed a great understanding with Lautaro Martinez, right down to the celebrations

His goal return was rewarded last season as Inter claimed their first Scudetto since 2010

His goal return was rewarded last season as Inter claimed their first Scudetto since 2010

From mostly aerial service, Lukaku's game became all about little lay-off passes, fast breaks, dribbles and teeing up chances for others.

Lukaku is seriously quick when he gets going but only at Inter did we realise. He developed an understanding with Lautaro Martinez and they had a unique goal celebration based on their love of video game Call of Duty.

During the title-winning 2020-21 season, Lukaku was not only Inter's top scorer but also claimed the most assists, most big chances created and most completed dribbles.

In other words, he became the complete all-round centre forward and one Chelsea felt compelled to smash their club record and spend £98million on last summer.

Chelsea fans will forgive Lukaku if he starts delivering more goals - especially against Spurs

Chelsea fans will forgive Lukaku if he starts delivering more goals - especially against Spurs

But perhaps most of all, Conte made Lukaku feel appreciated.

As the player's agent Federico Pastorello said: 'Two years of work with Mr Conte helped him. He can score left, right, head. He has completed himself as a striker working with Mr Conte.

'He gave him the feeling that he really wanted him, that he was the perfect last piece in the puzzle.'

Lukaku returned to the fold after his apology for giving his bombshell interview in Italy

Lukaku returned to the fold after his apology for giving his bombshell interview in Italy

That same chemistry hasn't quite been there with Tuchel and the frustrations poured out of Lukaku in that unauthorised interview with Sky Italia.

Seven goals in 18 Chelsea outings so far isn't terrible but more will be expected of the £98m striker now that his grovelling apology on Chelsea TV has hopefully wiped the slate clean.

As much as it will pain Lukaku to score against a side managed by the coach he came to view as a father figure at Inter, it's undoubtedly the easiest way to get back in the good books at Chelsea.

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