The Belgium international – who won Serie A’s Footballer of the Year award after netting 24 goals and laying on 11 assists last season – moved to west London as a teenager from Anderlecht but failed to net for the Blues in his handful of appearances.
He was loaned out twice, first to West Brom and then Everton, before moving to Goodison Park permanently; three more prolific seasons prompted a move to Manchester United, while he has starred at Inter under Antonio Conte since 2019.
Even though things did not work out for Lukaku at Chelsea, Cole believes he is now one of the best strikers in the world – although he did need to work on his first touch.
Asked why Lukaku did not make the grade at Stamford Bridge, the former left-back told ITV Sport: ‘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.’
Asked about the criticism Lukaku often receives over his first touch, Cole replied: ‘Yeah… me at 17 years of age I think my touch was probably a little bit better than his!
‘But you’ve got to understand, he was getting pressure from behind, it’s something he needed to work on and I think he did. Now stuff sticks a little bit better, his link-up play has improved, and in front of goal he’s deadly now.’
Lukaku netted twice in his first appearance at Euro 2020 against Russia and turned provider against Denmark on Thursday evening, playing a key role in both of Belgium’s goals.
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