Romelu Lukaku is a big presence both on and off the pitch. What you see with the 23-year-old is what you get – there is no room for ambiguity.
A 6’3” frame powers Everton’s formidable No9 and his loquacious nature charges an unapologetic ambition to be one of the world’s premier talents. He is not short of confidence or conviction and his list of accomplishments – and admirers – are long.
Indeed, the big Belgian is hard to ignore and in a way, he’s become the complete antithesis of Everton.
While the club are to their credit heading in a promising direction under the ownership of Farhad Moshiri with positive strides being made in regards to the development of a new 300 million stadium, you still can’t shake the feeling Lukaku has outgrown them.
Having rejected the club’s latest advances to tie him down beyond his current contract, which ends in 2018, Lukaku has made clear his desire to leave Goodison Park before the club is capable of playing at the highest level paramount to his plans.
And from a logical standpoint, you can’t really blame him for wanting to take his career to the next level. Big things might well be in the pipeline for Everton but bigger things are more immediate for Lukaku.
The embryonic and raw talent they invested £28m [Dh128.9m] in three years ago has now developed into one of the most fearsome forwards in Europe. He’s no longer potential. It’s not just the potency with which he has scored this season either – and no player has scored more goals from open play this term – it’s the variety of the goals he scored.
Pace and power with the ball at his feet are his obvious hallmarks but he has honed a predatory instinct and added a ruthlessness in front of goal.
Of course, his critics will continue to point to his lethargic work rate but that is redundant given his last eight goals have come in minutes ‘83, ‘84, ‘80, ‘81, ‘82, ‘90+1, ‘90+4, ‘89.
It’s fair to surmise that had he been run into the ground he may not have had the energy to score in the final 10 minutes. He is also learning to embrace his size and stature to help bring others into play.
Playing as the lone striker used to be problematic but he’s shown this season an ability to outmuscle defenders, while his protection of the ball has improved too. Quite simply, he’s the complete package.
His age, ability and mentality make him an attractive proposition for Europe’s elite, with Manchester United and Chelsea obvious destinations. And while both he and Everton are heading in the same direction, it’s at contrasting speeds.
Make no mistake, he is indispensable to Ronald Koeman having been directly involved in 53 percent of Everton’s 51 league goals this season (21 goals, six assists) and perhaps the impact of his exit won’t be truly appreciated until he leaves.
Saturday’s Merseyside Derby could provide another poignant example of why. Liverpool’s nervous back four are there to be bullied and there is no figure more intimidating right now than Lukaku.
Given Jurgen Klopp’s propensity to see his defence push high up the pitch, Everton’s ability to counter at speed will be crucial and in a game which could turn out to be a bit of a slugfest, Lukaku can be the man to provide the killer blow.
For Liverpool, stopping the Belgian will be crucial to their top four ambitions. The derby is their toughest assignment from now until the end of the season and defeat would not only damage their primary objective of qualifying for the Champions League but it would also see their advantage over their neighbours cut to just three points.
To stop him the blueprint was lay down in the reverse fixture with Ragnar Klavan lauded for his positioning as he man-marked Lukaku out of the game.
He suffocated the Belgian at Goodison Park and with Dejan Lovren still a slight injury concern, it’s likely the Estonian will be the man once again responsible for shackling the forward.
It will require another exemplary performance to ensure the Reds are not hurt by Lukaku. Ultimately in the end, though, it could be Everton who feel the pain of his progress because with every goal plundered his confidence grows – not just on the pitch but off it as well.
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