That may seem like a rather bold declaration, but while a 28 year-old Wayne Rooney stands 89 goals shy of Alan Shearer’s all-time top scorer record, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs venture only closer to retirement and Robin van Persie rediscovers his adoration for the physio room, the 20 year-old, proudly boasting a return of 30 goals in the first 62 games of his Premier League career, has the greatest chance of any player currently in the English top flight to better the Newcastle and England legend’s 260-goal benchmark.
Shearer’s goal return averaged out at 19 per season during his 14 Premier League campaigns. Lukaku’s, from season-long loans with West Brom last term and now Everton this year, averages at 15. Yet this is a striker who still has four matches left of the current campaign to improve that average, and remains a good four or five years away from his footballing prime.
It’s scary to envisage the world-class entity the 6 foot 3 Belgian could become in a couple of seasons’ time, considering he’s already one of the Premier League’s most potent goal threats and complete centre-forwards, but is still unable to legally order a drink during Chelsea’s customary pre-season tours of America.
Bizarrely however, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Lukaku’s future lies firmly away from Stamford Bridge.
We’ve seen Chelsea cash-in on talented youngsters before. This January, Kevin De Bruyne, who netted ten times during a Bundesliga loan spell at 21 just years of age, was sold to Wolfsburg for £18million after making a solitary three Premier League outings for his parent club. Likewise, unable to secure him regular playing time, Premier League second-top scorer Daniel Sturridge was sold to Liverpool in January 2013 for a miserly £12million fee.
Unfortunately for Romelu Lukaku, the logic of Chelsea’s summer transfer plans suggests he will go on to share a similar fate.
On paper, the Belgium international is everything Jose Mourinho needs. Tall, powerful and surprisingly quick, if the comparisons with Alan Shearer don’t quite take your fancy then the endless parallels with Didier Drogba undoubtedly will. The Ivorian icon was recently voted the best player in Chelsea’s history, and in terms of physique and style, Lukaku has all the makings of Drogba’s long-term successor – indeed, that appears to be the mandate which brought him to West London from FC Genk in 2012.
Furthermore, the 20 year-old represents the one part of the Chelsea jigsaw currently absent – a guaranteed goal scorer. If Mourinho’s side had been privy to Lukaku’s 13 Premier League goals this season rather than loan club Everton, he’d be the Blues’ second top scorer, bettered only by Eden Hazard. Chelsea’s goals for tally would stand at 79 rather than 66, and one can only speculate what impact that added fire power may have had on the Blues’ title bid. Those 0-1 defeats to Aston Villa and Crystal Palace would certainly have been more avoidable.
Yet, one again, Mourinho is struggling to see the value of youth as the age-old issue of assuring success at Stamford Bridge slowly re-emerges. The Portuguese will undoubtedly be given the benefit of the doubt if Chelsea end the current campaign empty handed, having remained decisively competitive in the Premier League title race all season and fought their way to a Champions League semi-final.
But the Special One is back in West London to scratch Roman Abramovich’s incurable itch – the need for silverware, each season, every season, without fail. If that requires letting Chelsea’s thriving generation of young European prodigies go to waste, then so be it as far as the Russian billionaire is concerned. Judging by his decision to relinquish Kevin De Bruyne in January in order to make his own signings without breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, it appears Mourinho holds a similar view.
Likewise, for all my praises of Lukaku, there’s no doubt it would be a gamble to immediately promote him to the Chelsea starting XI next season. The beastly Belgian is yet to score a competitive goal for his parent club, and a howling penalty miss in last summer’s European Super Cup final suggested Lukaku would struggle with the weight of expectation at Stamford Bridge. West Bromwich Albion and Everton’s form is controlled by momentum, their seasonal aims are taken in context, but for a club of Chelsea’s stature you have to be a dependable performer, capable of challenging for silverware every year.
The pressing fear is that enduring the teething pains of Lukaku’s transition into the first team fold could in effect render Chelsea blunt up top for yet another season. Several have already been wasted for the sake of Fernando Torres’ development, and the blowback of another campaign thrown by the wayside due to the same, intrinsic flaw could be disastrous. It could cost Jose Mourinho his job.
Resultantly, the Chelsea gaffer is widely anticipated to make a major striker signing this summer, with the leading candidate being Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa. Donning a powerful 6 foot 2 frame and having flourished under Diego Simeone, a manager whom, like Mourinho, specialises in disciplined anti-football, the Spain international is a perfect fit for the Blues’ lonesome striker role. Furthermore, just 25 years of age and with a release clause of £32million, the 34-goal forward can certainly be regarded as good value for money.
But as we learned from Lukaku last summer as he made way for Goodison on a late-window loan move, the Belgian target man isn’t prepared to linger on the bench. And why should he be? As previously stated, Lukaku has more than proved his Premier League striking credentials over the last two campaigns, not only in terms of netting prowess but furthermore overall performances, and if Mourinho isn’t prepared to take a punt on him at Chelsea, another club of decent European standing certainly will.
If you believe the words of the tabloids, Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton are all interested in acquiring the 20 year-old’s services permanently this summer, understandably so considering only three Premier League strikers – Luis Suarez, Robin Van Persie and Daniel Sturridge – have scored more than Lukaku since the start of the 2012/2013 campaign.
Furthermore, with just two years on the Everton loanee’s Chelsea contract remaining, and a new deal only likely amid the guarantee of regular football at Stamford Bridge, in terms of financial gain, the coming window represents the most timely opportunity to sell from the Blues’ point of view.
Romelu Lukaku is a world-class player in the making. Some would judge that as overhyping a youngster too soon, but there’s been little in the 20 year-old’s career thus far to suggest anything different. He’s already one of the most potent strikers in the most competitive top flight in world football, and can surely only further improve with age as he continues to mature on and off the pitch.
But there will never been room for him at the Chelsea Inn whilst Roman Abramovich’s lust for silverware is prioritised over long-term success. The anticipated arrival of Diego Costa this summer could well be the final nail in the coffin of Lukaku’s eight-game Chelsea career.
The lingering concern for Blues fans, regardless of handing over a world-class talent to a European or even domestic rival, will be that if a 15-goal-per-season, 20 year-old, Premier League striker can’t muscle his way into the Chelsea first team, what budding youngster from the Stamford Bridge academy ever will?