Lukaku on loan, but should he now leave Chelsea?
By Oliver Wilson
There’s a story that a young Belgian footballer was being given a tour with a group of fellow teenagers around Stamford Bridge on a school trip. Midway through the tour the boy stopped and looked around the ground that has been the home to some of the games greats, both in the modern era and years gone by, before saying, “What a stadium. The day I’m playing here in this stadium, that will be the single time in my life that you would see me cry. I’m going to succeed.”
Romelu Lukaku’s dream became a reality in August 2011 when the 18-year-old made his £18 million move to London to join André Villas-Boas and, what would eventually become, his failed revolution at Chelsea.
Lukaku rarely appeared under the short reign of the Portuguese manager and his time on the bench at the club was rarely noted, as the club’s incredible run to Champions League glory under Roberto Di Matteo paved over the cracks and the discomfort of many of the players at the club. Lukaku spoke loudly, the following summer, blaming his former manager, Villas-Boas, for his unhappy first season at the club, before vowing to come back a new and improved player for the 2012/13 campaign.
Rather than being nurtured at his parent club, the then 19-year-old was moved to West Bromwich Albion on loan, where Steve Clarke helped turn him from a player with the potential to cause problems for Premier League defences, to a striker who showed power and poise and immense ability for his age as he fired 17 league goals for the club, including a hat-trick against Manchester United on the final day of the season.
Throughout his time in the Midlands, the striker spoke of his basic desire to play football, to grow by playing on the pitch rather than working at the training ground, and reiterating how happy he would be to spend another year at the Baggies on loan to ensure his presence on the pitch in the build-up to the World Cup. Christian Benteke, his fellow countryman, was guaranteed to be playing first team football at Aston Villa – as long as he decided to stay at the club this summer. Lukaku wanted to ensure the starting spot in Belgium’s starting line-up wasn’t a walk in the park for the Villans forward.
Jose Mourinho spoke of how impressed he’d been by the play and desire of Lukaku during his side’s pre-season tour of America and the striker was given the green light to fight for a starting place in The Special/Happy One’s squad after the two discussed Lukaku’s future before the start of the season.
“I have had a good conversation with Jose Mourinho, and I know it's up to me to show I'm worth a place,” were the forward’s words this summer.
“It is the World Cup next year, and I need to be playing. But if I don't get in the Chelsea team often enough, then I won't deserve to be in the national squad.
'I am not afraid of that. I am determined to succeed with Chelsea next season.”
Since the opening weekend of the Premier League, however, Chelsea have used the former Anderlecht player sparingly, playing for just 15 minutes off the bench against Hull, before going on as a sub again against Aston Villa and Bayern Munich in the UEFA Super Cup.
Mourinho’s decision not to play an out-and-out starting striker in his side’s starting XI on their trip to Old Trafford raised questions about how happy the Blues boss was with his choice of forwards at the club, and in a game where Chelsea appeared desperate for a focal point to their attack, Lukaku was left watching the game from the bench, despite his optimistic belief before the game that he would be given a chance to take on the reigning champions.
Now Jose has now shipped Lukaku out on loan to Everton but the striker should think about a permanent move away from Stamford Bridge if he wants to become the player he believes he can be.
On Monday night, transfer deadline day, Demba Ba completed a medical with Arsenal and was just moments away from signing a season long loan deal with the London club as Arsene Wenger looked to add another striker to his depleted frontline. West Ham United had also shown a interest in acquiring the Blues striker on loan but the club appeared more than willing to do a deal with their London rivals until the final moments of the window, when the opportunity to move Lukaku onto Everton presented itself.
The move to Everton could be another attempt by Chelsea to get Lukaku regular playing time at a club, but with Fernando Torres still failing to fire on all cylinders, Ba not looking like the explosive striker he once was at Newcastle and Mourinho actively seeking out and purchasing Samuel Eto’o - a 32-year-old striker coming to play in a brand new league - the selection box of strikers at Chelsea looks less like a tin of Quality Street and more like the leftovers in the reduced bin at the supermarket.
If Chelsea wanted Lukaku to get regular game time, they could easily have played him themselves rather than buying the Cameroonian striker from Anzhi and, unlike the other three forwards, Lukaku might have been content to play a bit part role from the subs bench for the majority of the season.
Chelsea have flipped on their stance on Lukaku since the summer, a move that is more problematic than if they had decided to loan him away before the season began. Initially told he would be given the time and opportunity to prove himself in a Chelsea shirt this season, Romelu has once again been decked out in the blue and white of another club and Chelsea must hope that the striker doesn’t become disenfranchised with his parent side and start to wonder if, should he produce a repeat performance of his time in the Midlands, there is more life – and playing time – at another club.
Chelsea obviously aren’t set on the player just yet and, at a club where developing young prospects comes second to big buys in the transfer market, Lukaku could easily be replaced, much like he was when Chelsea opted to bring Ba to the club instead of recalling the Belgian from his loan spell at The Hawthorns in January.
Lukaku should think about a permanent move away from Chelsea, or risk denying the neutral football fan the opportunity to watch one of the Premier League’s must determined young talents turn into a great striker in the modern game.