Romelu Lukaku is shining with Inter Milan this season. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Despite a miserable spell on the pitch for Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku is thankful for his time at Old Trafford, saying that it helped him grow as a footballer as he is thriving for Inter Milan in Italy.

The Belgian international joined United from Everton in the summer of 2017, but left under a cloud this summer as he struggled to establish himself in Jose Mourinho’s team and departed for Inter with his time in Manchester termed a failure. He was accused of being overweight and some fans even suggested he was just there to pick up a pay cheque and did not care about the success of the club.

However, rather than crumble under the pressure, Lukaku embraced the challenge and soon found his shooting boots to help sustain a title push for Inter against Juventus in Serie A.

“You always stay positive,” said Lukaku, speaking at the 14th Dubai International Sports Conference. “Yes, I was struggling at Manchester. But I did not retreat into my shell. I always used that time to become better. I will never look it as a bad thing. I used to show a lot of anger before but my time at United helped me become a bigger person and I appreciate the time to help me grow. It is not a bad experience, it was what made me what I am today.”

Lukaku was in the news recently after he suffered racial abuse while playing for Inter against Cagliari. The Belgium-born striker of African descent used the opportunity to raise awareness about the issue, rather than resort to anger.

“We as footballers have the power to make a difference,” he said. “We have to make a statement. What happened at Cagliari to me was terrible. It was the first time it happened to me. I came from England where everything is strict.

“Why can we not just enjoy the game? Rather than focus on a person’s colour, or heritage or religion? This is what we need to do. Educate against these issues to help eradicate them.”

Speaking alongside Lukaku was Miralem Pjanic, who plays for Juventus, Inter’s big rivals for the league title in Italy. Despite their rivalry, Panic was the first to back Lukaku over the dreadful issue of racism in football.

“You have to make a stand,” he said. “Racism should not be in the stadiums. I would do anything to protect my teammates. If someone wants to walk off because of abuse, I would do what ever I could to eliminate this. It is unacceptable.”