When it comes to Romelu Lukaku, the narrative amongst many supporters and pundits reads that he isn’t having a good time of things at Everton since his £28 million move from Chelsea last summer.
On the back of a disappointing World Cup for the burly Belgian, in the early stages of the Premier League season Lukaku resembled a ponderous presence at the point of the Toffees attack. Perhaps prompted by his burly somatotype, he’s been perceived as a classic back-to-goal striker and his first touch in particular has been subject to heavy criticism this campaign.
But he scored his 15th goal of the season—just one short of last season’s total—in Everton’s recent win over Young Boys; a brace that took him to 100 career goals. He’s just 21 years and 284 days years old.
To reach that landmark at such an early stage of his career—although it could be considered to be 97 goals after a Belgium friendly was chalked from the record books, per goal.com—represents quite a staggering achievement.
It took Wayne Rooney 22 years and 88 days to reach that mark, the great Lionel Messi was 22 years and 207 days old when he notched a century of goals for Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo was older than 23 when he got into three figures.
Indeed, since Lukaku signed for West Bromwich Albion on loan from Chelsea back at the start of the 2012/13 season, only Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Robin Van Persie have only scored more goals in the Premier League. That’s pretty illustrious company for such a young man.
It’d be mawkish to suggest that Lukaku will certainly go on to achieve the heights that that trio did in the game. But looking at how those statistics stand up against world-class figures like the aforementioned threesome makes scathing criticism of the former Chelsea man look very harsh in the cold light of day.
And it’s not as if Lukaku has been afforded the kind of service Messi and Rooney were both given earlier in their career at Barcelona and Manchester United respectively. He’s played the majority of his games for Anderlecht, West Brom and despite a wonderful 2013/14 campaign, an Everton team who have really struggled so far this season.
So is the Belgian a seemingly easy target for detractors? Has his inflated transfer fee made him an easy target for criticism? Granted, he’s not the most luxurious player on the eye and there are times in matches when he can meander by looking disinterested. But just like misguided perceptions about his playing style, a perceived lack of interest couldn’t be further from the truth.
The youngster has admitted in the past that he’s an erudite student of the game and will spend a lot of his free time immersing himself in other matches. He’s a player who’s talents are still malleable and one that despite his occasional frustrations on the field, a forward who appreciates he has much to learn and is more than willing to do so.
As Lukaku noted himself in an interview with the Mirror late last year, he’s been on the scene for a whole now and as such, it’s easy to forget he’s still extremely young in footballing terms:
“Sometimes I think people forget I’m still 21. They think I’m 25 or 26 because I’ve been around for a few seasons now.
“Sometimes, I look at Ross [Barkley] and think ‘We’re both young, but people don’t realize that’. I’m still 21, sometimes mistakes happen – things happen because you don’t have the right experience. If I keep improving like this, then when I’m 25 or 26, that’s when there will be no excuses.”
Let’s not forget, this is a young man who has been through a lot in the relative infancy of his career too. Lukaku has seen his dream move to one of European soccer’s elite go up in smoke. He lost his place in the World Cup team to Divock Origi at the very last minute, was signed for a record transfer fee last summer and most recently, has had to cope with the death of his very close friend Junior Malanda. All things considered, he’s doing magnificently well.
There are few who expect Lukaku to go on and scale the heights of Messi and Rooney for he doesn’t have the fundamental technical ability to match players of that calibre. But if you play the ball in front him with space to run into, there are few forwards on the continent that are as direct, incisive and aesthetically enticing as the Belgian.
Lukaku’s been unashamed in his willingness to make it to the very top too. He’s admitted he feels capable of emulating the likes of Rooney and Ronaldo last year, per ESPN, and while many will see a move to Everton as a step back, his ambition to lead the line for an up-and-coming side and get minutes under his belt instead of sitting on the bench must be admired.
He’s already a thoroughbred goalscorer too, as is evident by his century of goals scored in the early echelons of what will surely be a long and prosperous career. Roberto Martinez admitted that Lukaku still needs to find a level of consistency to his game and that will surely come with experience. When he strikes that desirable balance to compliment his excellent goalscoring, the striker is going to be a major force to be reckoned with.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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