Romelu Lukaku’s loan move to West Brom last season is exactly what the player and Chelsea needed. Playing time was likely to be limited at Stamford Bridge, and the loan away has seemingly prepared the young Belgian for a career at the top of the Premier League.
Questions, though, may be raised as to whether the 20-year-old can take on a starring role this season, with Fernando Torres and Demba Ba far from the consistent threats the club need, and another forward yet to arrive via the market. Lukaku’s spell and scoring exploits at West Brom would certainly indicate that he’s ready.
But is it the best move? Lukaku is still extremely young, and regardless of age, it has to be questioned whether he has the mentality to lead a club like Chelsea to the league title. The depth he’ll add across four competitions this season will be invaluable, with his strength and stature putting him forward as an ideal lone front man. But there is a disadvantage, one that none of the other two obvious title challengers are making.
Despite the moniker as “The Next Drogba,” Lukaku is still in the development phase of his career. Last season was his first full season in one of Europe’s top leagues, while even compatriot Christian Benteke arguably wouldn’t have had to deal with the same pressure Lukaku may face if he were made Chelsea’s first-choice striker: regularly delivering to help secure honours.
There has already been plenty of discussion among Chelsea fans as to whether the team need another forward. With the current crop, there is a good mix of youth and experience, and even though none of the three obvious choices stand out as world class (at least not now), they are all able to contribute to varying degrees over the season. It still, however, means that Lukaku is placed further down the pecking order below Torres.
But there could be a few subtle hints as to how Chelsea plan to use Lukaku in the immediate future. There has been a lot of talk of Wayne Rooney and Samuel Eto’o, so the club are clearly looking to strengthen, while Torres will remain a topic of discussion regardless. But there has been little mention of Lukaku’s position in the team. Sure, it doesn’t help that Jose Mourinho has a poor record when it comes to developing youngsters at his previous clubs, and that could once again come to the fore.
Yet considering the youth that runs through the core of this Chelsea side, Lukaku may be seen as yet another peripheral piece rather than one of the pillars. It would make sense, too. Even with his obvious talent, Lukaku isn’t considered one of the leading young players in Europe. He’ll do extremely well when playing in a mid-table team where the majority of the attention is elsewhere, but throwing him in at the deep end is clearly something Chelsea don’t want to consider.
If Chelsea keep their faith in the player, Lukaku may yet be a vital piece of the team’s attack – though that will come in a few seasons. The Belgian does have a role to play this season, especially if Chelsea are done with their transfer business. But becoming the big-name striker the club may want now is not the ideal approach for either party.
Can Lukaku be Chelsea’s first-choice striker this season?
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