Belfast Telegraph

Inter close in on Lukaku as Ole weighs his options

Wanted man: Romelu Lukaku in action against Antonio Conte’s former team, Chelsea
Wanted man: Romelu Lukaku in action against Antonio Conte’s former team, Chelsea

By Simon Peach

Inter Milan head coach Antonio Conte has confirmed his desire to sign Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku - a player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has ruled out of today's clash between the sides in Singapore with a knock.

Two years on from joining from Everton for an initial £75m, the 26-year-old is keen to move onto pastures new and link up with the manager he turned down to join the Old Trafford giants instead.

United sneaked ahead of Conte's Chelsea to complete that move in 2017, and now the Italian is looking to link up with him at Inter, who face Solskjaer's side in a friendly at Singapore's National Stadium.

"I think frustrated is a big word," Conte said in English when asked about the inability to complete a deal.

"Lukaku is a United player and this is the reality. You know very well that I like this player, but also in the past when I was Chelsea's coach and I tried to bring him to Chelsea.

"But I repeat, today Lukaku is a player of United and this is the reality and this is the truth."

Pushed on Inter's interest in him, Conte said: "I think that at this moment, I repeat, we're talking about a player of another club.

"For this reason, I think that it's right (we) don't talk about Lukaku because I have great respect for United.

"I like this player and I consider him an important player for us to have a good improvement. But, at the same time, there is a market, a transfer market.

"We'll see, we'll see what happens but now, for sure, Lukaku is a United player."

Conte confirmed striker Mauro Icardi, just like midfielder Radja Nainggolan, would not be part of the 'Inter project' moving forwards, a decision that leaves them light in attack.

"For sure it's not easy to play without a striker at the beginning of the season like this," Conte added.

"It's not easy to play against teams like Juventus and Manchester United without strikers. But the market is open so there is still a process for players to come in and out."

Conte's frustration in failing to sign Lukaku is understood to be echoed by the player himself.

The Belgium striker watched United's training session from the bench on the eve of the International Champions Cup match against his potential employers in sweltering Singapore.

Lukaku was at one point seen in animated conversation with a member of the United backroom team during the session, one of many he has missed during the pre-season tour.

After missing the wins against Perth Glory and Leeds, the 26-year-old will again fulfil a watching brief in Singapore.

"No, he's not fit so he won't be available," Solskjaer said in Singapore, two hours before Conte sat in the same chair.

When asked if he believed Lukaku would be at the club next month, the United manager said: "I don't have any updates from the last time I spoke to you. So, yeah, I do."

Meanwhile, Solskjaer knows United need to hit the ground running if next season is to be a success.

A poor start to the 2018-19 campaign resulted in Jose Mourinho's men falling behind the pack, leading to the Old Trafford hierarchy eventually wielding the axe in mid-December.

Solskjaer then oversaw a remarkable upturn in fortunes when brought in as caretaker manager, but things went awry after his permanent appointment and United stumbled home in sixth.

The gap to relegated Cardiff in 18th was the same to champions Manchester City at the end of the season, and Solskjaer knows his side need to start as they mean to go.

"The start of the season is important, that's why we've worked them hard.

"I don't think many of the players have had a pre-season like this before in the last two or three years because there have been championships. It's their first pre-season for a little while.

"So, for us, in the first eight to 10 games you don't win anything but you can definitely lose the chance to win things. The first two months is vital for us."

Belfast Telegraph


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