Amid a season of surprising inconsistency at Goodison Park, nothing has surprised me more than the disjointed form of Romelu Lukaku.
Last year, the Everton striker’s performances verged upon talismanic. This year, they’ve ranged from average to anonymous.
Of course, every centre-forward is dependent upon the ten men behind them. Not only do they need to get him the ball in the final third as frequently as possible, they’ve also got to keep games within the realms of his goals making the difference, and the Toffees have failed on both fronts numerously throughout the campaign.
But for a prodigious 21 year-old who entered the season with 32 Premier League goals under his belt already – 15 of which were during a prolific loan spell with the Toffees last year- a return of just eight in 31 league appearances thus far is worryingly underwhelming.
So amid rumours Borussia Dortmund, PSG and Wolfsburg are all prepared to take Lukaku off Everton’s hands this summer, should the Merseysiders cash-in on their struggling front-man?
Well, it’s patently obvious Lukaku is still some way off being the complete centre-forward last season’s form and his subsequent £30million move to Goodison Park initially implied. Although the potential is there for all to see, an inconsistent first touch and limited vision on the ball often lets him down. Technically, he’s far behind some of the other first-choice top-half strikers in the Premier League, which will be a long-term concern to tiki-taka-influenced manager Roberto Martinez.
But what’s most disappointing is Lukaku’s attitude. During prior loan spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion, he was a beastly presence, a battering ram of goalscoring prowess – his complete domination of Nemanja Matic during Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game as Manchester United boss, a scintillating 5-5 draw, particularly comes to mind – but this season he’s been surprisingly unwilling to exploit the height and power of his 6 foot 3 frame.
Some pundits have argued that he’s more of a runner – a counter-attacker, at his most comfortable when threatening the space behind opposition defences. There’s nothing wrong with that; Lukaku is certainly blessed with the speed and strength to find success with that poacher-esque method. But now resembling closer the next Emmanuel Adebayor than the next Didier Drogba, is that really what the Toffees forked out a club record fee for?
That being said, it seems implausible the Belgium international won’t develop, at some point, into a twenty-goal-per-season centre-forward. He’s almost reached that total in the Premier League once already with West Brom, and could’ve done the same last year had it not been for a seven-game absence through injury.
Every team must adapt to the strengths of their respective centre-forward, but Everton’s ball-retaining style doesn’t create those counter-attacking opportunities Lukaku wants. Selling such a promising talent purely because he doesn’t fit the Martinez philosophy, rather than modifying it to better suit him, seems naively idealistic.
But Everton always had future profits in mind when they signed Lukaku last summer. Bill Kenwright wouldn’t have sanctioned the move without having full confidence in the former Chelsea youngster’s market valuation soaring over the course of the next few years. Everton is a club Lukaku intends to outgrow, something the Toffees hierarchy are well aware of even if they’d never openly admit it.
So the real question is how much profit would the Merseysiders make if they sold him this summer. The tabloids have quoted a £28million valuation – £2million less than the figure Everton paid just a matter of months ago – but with three top European clubs in the mix, some smart negotiations could see that number rapidly escalate.
Should Everton work their way up to £35million, they might be advised to sell. After all, his form this season suggests the 21 year-old will take longer than expected to reach the world-class level often heralded of him, and that money could be spent refreshing ageing departments – particularly, the heart of defence and central midfield.
Yet, in comparison to what Lukaku could be worth a few years down the line, a £5million profit just isn’t worth the gamble. Over the last few summers we’ve seen Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao move for £55million and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez for £75million. Although there’s no guarantee the Everton prodigy will reach their level, it seems logical to assume his value – perhaps after his first twenty-goal season – won’t be too far behind.
So perhaps cashing in now would be a few summers too soon. Lukaku’s contract doesn’t expire until 2019, leaving the Toffees under no immediate obligation to sell. The prevailing concern, however, is that another quiet season could diminish top-level demand for the striker completely.