To welcome in the new football season, the blue half of Liverpool have decided to add a modern aesthetic touch to its famous old stadium. Emblazoned on the side of the Goodison Road stand at Everton’s Goodison Park is a huge image of manager Roberto Martinez, standing proudly in his customary suit and blue tie, along with the Spanish phrase ‘Solo lo mejor’.
Translated as ‘only the best’, the Castilian mantra is a nod to the club’s time-honoured Latin motto Nil satis nisi optimum – nothing but the best is good enough – with Martinez signing off his thoughts with this three-word motivational fillip at the end of each missive in the club’s matchday programme.
Indeed, the motto seems apt for a manager such as Martinez; young, ambitious and undoubtedly talented, the high standards he demands from his players and his constant desire to improve saw his Everton side record their highest ever Premier League points total last season, finishing with 72 points and narrowly missing out on a Champions League berth.
A highly impressive debut season for Martinez at Everton though it was, the Spaniard knows that settling once again for a fifth-place finish and Europa League football would betray the club’s best-is-all-that-matters philosophy. Though being the best in its literal sense may be overly ambitious for Everton in the current climate, as we take into account the sheer financial might and magnetism of Manchester City and Chelsea, a perpetual striving for self-improvement and gradual progression is an adequate alternative interpretation of the club’s motto. Which makes Martinez’s purchase of Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku baffling.
Romelu Lukaku is obviously a talented footballer. His 15 league goals while on loan last season from Chelsea were a major contributing factor to Everton’s successful campaign. Looking forward to this season, however – especially as we consider the Toffees’ opening three results – one gets the impression that not only is Lukaku a striker who perhaps belongs at a Europa League club rather than a Champions League club, but that the eye-watering £28million Martinez forked out to make his signing permanent could also have been better spent elsewhere.
The most important aspects of the Belgian’s game are his strength and brute force. On his day, Lukaku is able to use these attributes to devastating effect, with his bullying of the Arsenal defence during Everton’s emphatic 3-0 victory last season being a particularly vivid example, in which the frontman scored one and assisted another.
What Lukaku lacks, however, is an abundance of technical ability. Often compared to his one-time colleague Didier Drogba, the Ivorian nevertheless possesses superior technique which has seen him thrive in Europe, scoring 34 goals in 69 games for Chelsea in the Champions League and of course converting the deciding penalty in the final against Bayern Munich which saw the Blues lift the trophy for the first time in their history.
Conversely, Lukaku was never trusted with leading the line for Chelsea in Europe, his only appearance on the continent for the Blues coming in last season’s Super Cup final in which he missed the deciding penalty in the shoot-out against none other than Bayern Munich. It is somewhat telling that Jose Mourinho decided to offload the Belgian for good in the summer and replace him with the second coming of the 36-year-old Drogba in order to bolster Chelsea’s attacking options, a man whose best days are clearly behind him.
Chelsea’s main attacking threat this season, however, comes from Diego Costa, not Drogba, and when the two teams in blue met at Goodison Park on Saturday evening the difference in class between the naturalised Spaniard and Lukaku was plain to see. For all his industry, the Belgian was unable to find the net against his former side, whereas Costa tore Everton’s defence to shreds, combining physicality and prolific finishing to end the game with two goals. In a game in which the frequency of goals seemed at times farcical, Lukaku’s name was notably absent from Everton’s scoresheet. The Toffees’ three scorers on the day – Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith and Samuel Eto’o – cost a combined total of £6million, with the latter two being free transfers. The £28m Lukaku has yet to score this season.
One could easily make the argument that to highlight Lukaku’s alleged shortcomings at a fledgling stage in both the season and the player’s career is to be hopelessly premature. However Chelsea’s demolition of Everton last week raises another issue.
The ageing centre-back pairing of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin looked woefully out of their depth, unable to cope with the pace and incision of Chelsea’s attack. Having already conceded ten goals in just three games, there is a strong case to be made that the significant sum paid for Lukaku would have been better spent improving the real weakness in Everton’s side.
Scoring goals, after all, doesn’t seem to be an issue, with a respectable seven from their opening trio of fixtures. John Stones, for all his potential, remains inexperienced, and at 32 Jagielka is the next youngest centre-back among the Toffees’ senior players.
The high-risk, high-cost gamble on Lukaku means that lo mejor – the best – may be out of Everton’s reach this season.