It’s odd that a player who cost a club £20m could feel like the unglamorous option. But then this is Chelsea Football Club.
Most teams who signed a 17-year-old for so much money would only do so because they saw the teenager as part of the long-term future of the club. There would be a space in the team for the player to grow into, and all future plans would be considered in the context of this prospect.
For Chelsea, Lukaku represents nothing more than a very talented headache. Their first impulse is always to buy. That’s how they ended up with the striker in the first place. But Lukaku now offers the option to promote from within. With nearly three years gone since they signed the Belgian from Anderlecht, it’s time for the club to decide whether they actually intend on playing him or not.
Lukaku has been excellent for Everton this season. While he impressed in fits during his loan spell at West Brom, he has performed more consistently this term. The Belgian has so far scored 12 in his 23 games, a better goals-per-game ratio than any of Chelsea’s strikers. He’s also managed to set up six goals, putting him joint 5th for assists in the league.
Given the player’s physical strength, it’s easy to pigeonhole Lukaku into the big centre-forward mould. But this is to do the Belgian a disservice. His link-up play is exceptional, and his preference for dropping deep and laying the ball on for teammates would seem to suit Chelsea’s counter-attacking style perfectly.
The forward’s pace and strength also make him a formidable opponent when allowed to run with the ball. Whereas Torres and Eto’o only really offer decoy runs when Chelsea counter, Lukaku would give the team another player capable of dribbling at the opposition with speed. He would make Chelsea’s formidable three into a formidable four. The thought is absolutely frightening.
And yet it feels unlikely that Chelsea will start next season with Lukaku as their first-choice striker. It’s just not the ‘Chelsea way’. The club’s preference is always to buy when it comes to the first-team. Youth team players are only useful for the idea of youth itself.
They can come on for the last 10 minutes of games when the team has already secured victory in order to give the fans something to be excited about. They represent hope for the future; the idea that tomorrow will be better than today.
But tomorrow never comes for these players. Tomorrow there will be new players to offer up hope; and today will remain reserved for the chosen.
And anyway, where is the guarantee that Lukaku can do it for Chelsea? Yes, he has potential, but we all know the only sure thing in this life is money. Money guarantees success. Why take a risk on as illusive of a concept of potential when you could just pay for a sure thing?
But if any club should know that transfer fees don’t equate to success on the field it should be Chelsea. The painful toils of Fernando Torres naturally spring first to mind, but this is grossly unfair on the Spaniard. The £30m paid for Andriy Shevchenko’s nine goals was the much greater travesty.
And Lukaku isn’t even a youth team player in the normal sense of the word. He may have joined the club at 17, but only after an enormous amount of money was exchanged. The problem for Lukaku is that he’s yesterday’s news.
‘Yes, we paid a lot of money for him then, but we could always sell him now and get someone new in’.
Something more exciting. Something shinier. Something more fun.
It’s not Romelu Lukaku’s fault that he looks unlikely to get his chance at Chelsea next season. Christ! He was the man for Chelsea this season, but they preferred to loan him out and bring in Samuel Eto’o instead.
The Belgian can’t be expected to do much more than he is for Everton right now. It just seems there will always be a new puppy in the window at Stamford Bridge.