Renaissance

After that flying start where he scored 10 goals and contributed one assist in his first nine competitive matches for the club, Lukaku went on a barren run that would have seriously tested his resolve. His next 12 games reaped only a solitary goal and three assists.  The vultures started circling their prey and the jokes, insults and pronouncements of fulfilled prophecies started rolling in.

“Waste of money”.

“Big and clumsy”.

“Mistake not to go after Alvaro Morata”.

“Bench him”.

“Sell him”.

No. If Lukaku had listened and allowed that to overwhelm him as it has done so many others, he’d have been sitting on the bench, but his response during the bad run was what now defines Lukaku as a footballer. He cost the team games with poor defensive clearances. His head dropped from embarrassment and frustration, but his effort never waned even when he became a menace to his own club’s chances.

What he did was to begin influencing the game through different avenues. He worked harder off the ball. He ran hard to offer defensive support. He worked tirelessly to press right up to 90 minutes. He thread at least a half dozen passes that the best passers would be proud of. Was this the Lukaku from Chelsea and Everton? This was a man finding himself more than anything else. He wasn’t any better a footballer. It was that his confidence and mental acumen had been elevated to a point where he sounded out the noise and focused on the task at hand.

Lost in all this is the faith instilled in him by Jose Mourinho and his teammates. He was ‘undroppable’ amidst the torrent of complaints about that undeniably wretched form.

Also not to be lost is that his basic statistics do him a disservice. His league assist tally of seven could have been so much more if simple chances had been taken following from sublime passes you’d have to see to believe they were from the man. His goal tally could be much closer to 20 had he not been ignored countless times when in good position to score (mainly) by Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Still, the future looks encouraging as the big Belgian has still racked up 14 goals and eight assists in 30 league matches (roughly 2615 minutes) in the league and 32 goal contributions in just over 3200 minutes in all competitions. He’s still not the finished product at almost 25 years young, and much of his value is not represented in the stats you immediately look to for a striker. The finished product will never be Zlatan, Robert Lewandowski, Thierry Henry and it won’t be Dider Drogba. It will be Romelu Menama Lukaku Bolingoli.

“I started really well and then I went through a spell where I had to learn other stuff in my game. I think the November/December period was difficult for me, but it was a period where I think I had to prepare myself to do other stuff. And I think my understanding with my team-mates became much better after that. From January onwards, I’ve been going from strength to strength. I’m doing well right now, but I want to keep improving because I think with my young age, there is a lot of stuff to be done. And I relish the challenge to become a better player than I am now” – Romelu Lukaku

Luk’s good. To see it, though, you’d need to ‘look good’ using an unbiased lens.