Ashley Cole says “no one respected” Romelu Lukaku at Chelsea but that his spells on loan gave him the “self-belief” to compete.
The 28-year-old scored twice in Belgium’s Euro 2020 opener against Russia on Saturday, and spent three years at Chelsea earlier in his career.
Lukaku – who has been linked with a return to Stamford Bridge – struggled to make an impact with the Blues under various managers and made the move to Everton in 2014.
Following spells at the Toffees and then Manchester United, Lukaku made the move to Inter Milan where he has thrived, helping them to win the Serie A title this season.
The 28-year-old scored 30 goals and assisted ten in 44 appearances in the 2020-21 campaign for Serie A giants Inter.
And Cole has revealed how it was hard for Lukaku to make an impact in the Chelsea first-team with Didier Drogba ahead of him.
Cole said on ITV: “He joined as a kid, he joined as a 17-year-old.
“[He was] a raw talent, his game understanding was not great. Didier Drogba was his kind of father figure who used to help him in terms of developing his technique and understanding of movement.
“And then I think the two loans really gave him that self belief that he was good enough. Yes, he was still young but he still had a point to prove.
“I think no one kind of respected him at Chelsea, in terms of the fans. When he did play, was he going to be the top striker for Chelsea? He had Didier Drogba in front of him.
“For him to go on loan and prove to himself, he definitely came back with that self-belief, that courage, and now his performances have been second to none, he’s been quality.”
Since leaving Manchester United in 2019 for Inter Milan, Lukaku has bagged 64 goals in 95 matches and won a Serie A title.
Jose Mourinho managed him during his spell at United and he commented recently that he was “still developing” during his time at Old Trafford.
“These two years at Inter Milan have given him the stature and the self-confidence that he didn’t have before,” Mourinho told The Times. “At Chelsea, he was still a kid. At Manchester United, he was still developing. At Inter he became the top man.
“He became loved – a big love from the supporters, love from teammates, great relations with the coach.
“He’s a big guy, physically so strong, but there is also a kid inside who needs that love, needs that support, needs to feel important.”