It is fast becoming a familiar sight — the big man up top, barging a defender out of the way to score and haul his side level, this time against Swansea at the weekend, notching his fourth goal in five games. The Chelsea man swaggers around the pitch, knowing his importance to his team, terrorising defenders with his brute strength and unwillingness to give up lost causes. His team oblige him, hoisting ball after ball up to him, knowing his power and energy will force yet another promising attack. His name is sung to the rafters as he comes off late in the game, as he applauds the fans after another all action performance which will eventually herald another win and three precious points, their third win in their last four games.
‘Didier Drogba,’ I hear you say. Guess again, for the big Ivorian is now turning out in Turkey for Galatasaray. It is Romelu Lukaku, the forgotten man from Chelsea, who is now transforming West Brom’s season, and giving fans and players alike a real taste of things to come from a young talent whose career is finally getting started.
With 13 goals this season, the young Belgian looks to be starting to reach his undoubted potential, a potential which persuaded Chelsea to part with £18 million for his services in August 2011. Lukaku had scored 39 goals in his only two full seasons playing for the Belgian club; this is made all the more startling with the fact that he was only 17 years old at the time.
But with Drogba and Torres the main men at Chelsea, his playing time was severely limited, turning out only 8 games in Chelsea’s Champions league winning season last year. It seemed appropriate then that he should go out on loan to former Chelsea defender and coach Steve Clarke’s West Brom, in order to be nurtured, and avoid wasting such promise.
Now, with Lukaku enjoying a new lease of life at the Midlands club, Drogba departing to pastures new, and Torres looking as dangerous in front of goal as a shaved kitten, there will be few Chelsea fans that do not see the return of the Belgian as a necessity for the club. Former Newcastle man, Demba Ba has been brought in as a stopgap striker to aid the flailing Torres, but it is certainly a temporary arrangement.
But, while Lukaku’s record speaks for itself, there will be some reservations from the Chelsea hierarchy as to his ability to ingratiate himself into the fast flowing outfit that the club are attempting to create.
Strikers aside, Chelsea’s attack is chock full of fast thinking, swift footed playmakers and wingers. Linkup play is everything, as well as the switch from defensive aptitude, to devastating counterattacks. This is far removed from the days of Didier Drogba, and Chelsea’s shift away from this is clear due to the club’s stance on legend Frank Lampard, another relic from the days of their brand of dominant, powerful football that saw them achieve such success over the past 10 years.
If Lukaku is to ultimately fulfil his dream of being the number one striker for the Blues, it will depend on his patience off the ball, his intelligent running, and most of all, his touch. It is all very well that he scores hatful’s of goals in a system designed specifically to play to his physicality, but it is a different thing entirely to play as part of a quick attacking unit, where the demands are much more focused on multiple passes at close-quarters and quick feet; just ask Torres.
The much maligned Spaniard thrived at Liverpool in a system honed to play to his ability to play right on the edge of the defensive line, and spin away giving him an often winnable footrace with defenders. At Chelsea, he has spectacularly failed to adapt to the new system, leaving Chelsea with this two year headache.
While Chelsea fans will be excited to see a player in the mould of Drogba return to the club, hoping that he has a similar impact on the trophy cabinet as the now legendary Ivorian, Lukaku and Drogba share the same lack of ability with close control and technical skill. But Lukaku has over a decade on Drogba, and his youth will surely provide him with extra patience from the man in charge of the Blues next season.
There can be no doubt that Romelu Lukaku deserves his chance at Chelsea, given his recent goal scoring exploits, and visible growth as a player under the watchful eye of Clarke, but it may not necessarily be a good match. While you might say that having Drogba as your footballing idol, and basing the majority of your game around the African, may look like a good choice by Lukaku; perhaps it will be a decision that will be a previously unforeseen hindrance on his quest to succeed at Chelsea, as the ‘Didier Drogba way’ of football is now just part of the history books at the club.