JULY 8 ― Exactly how good is Romelu Lukaku?
It’s a question many people have asked ever since he shot into public awareness as a 16 year-old child prodigy by becoming a first team regular for the strongest and most high-profile club in Belgium, Anderlecht.
Even back then, it was inevitable that Lukaku’s future would lie in a bigger and better league, and there was no surprise when he was snapped up by Chelsea in the summer of 2011 at the tender age of 18.
Since then, however, Lukaku has never quite succeeded in consistently living up to the lofty expectations created by his early breakthrough.
After failing to make the grade at Chelsea, largely due to a lack of opportunities, he embarked upon a successful loan spell with West Brom before moving again to Everton, where he has enjoyed four fairly fruitful seasons to become only one of five players in English Premier League history to score 50 goals before his 23rd birthday.
Throughout his time at Goodison Park, Lukaku has been good and occasionally very good, but he has not quite been spectacular, leaving a lingering doubt over the question of exactly how far he can be expected to go.
Similarly, his international career with Belgium has contained some special moments but he has never really delivered in major competitions, scoring just three goals during the course of the 2014 World Cup Finals and the 2016 European Championships, and his overall tally of 20 goals in 57 games is nothing to write home about.
So the question remains unanswered: how good is he really? He’s very good, that much is clear. But is he just one of the best strikers in the Premier League or can he be one of the best in the world? Is he Everton good, or Real Madrid good?
The stats are inconclusive. 68 goals in 141 league games for Everton is a perfectly respectable tally, but it does not even come close to matching the scoring ratio of an indisputable top talent like Sergio Aguero, who has netted on 122 occasions in his 181 EPL outings for Manchester City.
However, it should also be noted that Lukaku got those goals for a team which was dwelling in the mid-table regions throughout his spell, and for obvious reasons it is generally much easier to score with more regularity for a title-chasing side.
It looks like we’ll find out more about Lukaku’s true capabilities next season, because he is currently on the verge of completing a £75 million move to Manchester United which, if it goes through, will probably be the biggest transfer of the summer and make him the fourth most expensive player in history after Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
If the deal happens, it will be the opportunity that Lukaku has been waiting for ever since breaking into first team football eight years ago.
There are few positions more prestigious in world football than centre forward for Manchester United, and if it goes well for Lukaku at Old Trafford he would undoubtedly be heralded as the bona fide world class superstar many people have always been expecting him to become.
United certainly need him to succeed. Nearly a third of the team’s EPL goals last season came from Zlatan Ibrahimovic (17 out of 54), and the enigmatic Swede’s departure has obviously left a big hole to be filled.
The first choice to inherit Ibrahimovic’s briefly held position as the focal point of the attack was Antoine Griezmann, but the Frenchman admirably eventually opted to stay with Atletico Madrid after their transfer ban was upheld by Fifa.
Then United appeared to have turned their attentions towards a player who had previously worked with manager Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid’s back-up striker Alvaro Morata. But the lack of progress in negotiations with Madrid led to United eventually abandoning that plan and instead plumping for Lukaku.
So the Belgian will arrive at Old Trafford after being far from their chief target for the vacant striker role, and with a lofty price tag to justify there will be no shortage of pressure on the 24 year-old when action resumes in August.
Make no mistake: United’s expectations over the coming months will be to win the EPL title and mount a strong challenge in the Champions League.
Claiming the League Cup and Europa League trophies at the end of Mourinho’s first season was a respectable accomplishment, but United recruited the Portuguese coach with far bigger prizes in mind, and now the honeymoon period is over patience will be in short supply.
And as such a major signing, Lukaku will be expected to deliver from day one and his career-best tally of 25 goals from last season’s campaign will have to become a norm rather than an exception.
Is he good enough? To be honest, we don’t really know. But this is finally his chance to prove that he can live up to the hype.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.