When Chelsea paid Anderlecht close to £20million for Romelu Lukaku in the summer of 2011, he called the Blues his dream club. But 18 months later, it is West Bromwich Albion who are providing a stage for him to shine.
The headline from the Baggies’ defeat at Reading was the home side’s remarkable last 10 minutes; but what in the end was only a sub-plot was the contribution of Lukaku, who scored two, had a third ruled out for offside, hit the post, struck the bar, and generally looked a class apart.
It was a lesson in forward play from a player who was bought with a reputation as one of Europe’s brightest lights, before being temporarily dimmed by a year spent on the periphery at Chelsea.
In fact, such was Lukaku’s disappointment at his debut season that he refused to hold the Champions League trophy as he didn’t feel part of the success. Talking of his omission from the European squad he said at the time, “I’ve not even touched the cup. I don’t deserve it because I was not on the list. I don’t touch anything I don’t deserve.”
That need to contribute in order to celebrate may just be his greatest attribute; especially when too many players appear satisfied with a place on the bench or give less than their all on the pitch.
If his performances this season are anything to go by, he will be touching plenty more trophies in the future.
Before Saturday’s game, the young Belgian already had seven goals and was a consistent threat for Steve Clarke’s team. But the game against Reading suggested he is approaching another level.
It wasn’t just the two goals that took his tally to nine in 22 games (only 10 of which he has started).
Or that he now has almost exactly the same minutes-per-goal ratio as Robin van Persie. It was everything.
It was the way he created and scored the first goal, controlling a long pass just inside the Royals’ half with his chest and releasing James Morrison, before running into the box pointing exactly where he wanted the return.
It was in the offside goal, the timing of his run too soon but the sliding finish clinical regardless.
It was in the chance he headed against the post, and the chance he rattled against the crossbar with a first-time sweeping shot that looked effortless.
And it was in his second goal, as he received the ball wide on the right, ran infield and smashed it past Adam Federici’s dive.
In short, Saturday showed me what all the fuss was about. And it left me thinking that the young striker may just be the best teenager in the Premier League.
At just 16, Lukaku ended the 2010 season as a championship winner and the Belgian league’s top scorer. With that kind of history, it is no surprise he is now terrorising English defences.
But in his towering frame, direct approach and natural finishing, I fear how good he may become.
In his early years in Belgium, he was described as the new Didier Drogba. But ultimately, he has all the attributes to be even better.
image: © wshjackson