Among the many dilemmas facing Jose Mourinho this summer is what to do with Romelu Lukaku. One of his most controversial decisions a year ago was to send the big Belgian centre-forward on loan to Everton, where he promptly became a goal-scoring hero while our three striker s struggled to find the net. Should Lukaku be loaned out again? Should he be sold to the highest bidder? Or is it time to give him a proper chance at Chelsea?
I say give him a chance. There’s not much to be gained by loaning him out again – his spell at Goodison Park proves that he can handle Premier League defences. Selling him seems counter-productive when we are allegedly dumping our entire strike force from last season. Keeping him means we need only find two new forwards rather than three – unless of course we use him as bait to secure someone else.
So why not give him a place in the squad as one of our three main strikers? Some would argue that although he proved himself at Everton, he isn’t the world-class striker a team of Chelsea’s calibre needs. It’s true that his technique is occasionally suspect, his touch a little clumsy, and that he still has much to learn about timing his runs and positioning.
But here’s the thing. He’s still only 21. At 21, Didier Drogba – the striker on whom Lukaku models himself – was still playing in the French second division and hardly setting the world alight there. It would be another three years before Drogba began really to shine. Lukaku is already ahead of him.
One can argue that Lukaku isn’t the full ticket yet, but 16 goals at a goal every two games for a top-table side like Everton is impressive form by anyone’s standards. And there were several signs in his play that he is improving rapidly.
He appears to have developed a better understanding of how to unsettle and outfox defences, and his ability to beat his centre-back with both his physicality and his pace, not to mention his ball skills, has markedly advanced.
He’s better in the air than any of our current strikers, and if we are to revert any time next season to the long ball hoof, I’d rather it was Lukaku on the end of those balls than, say, Ba. He controls the ball better and is more adept at bringing his team-mates into the attack.
Let’s presume we sign Diego Costa. Let’s also presume that another striker finds his way to Stamford Bridge (Cavani? Mandzukic? Rooney, God forbid?). That still leaves another squad berth open. The cheapest, easiest and cleverest option is to fill it with the young striker with bags of potential whom we already own.
Step forward, Romelu Lukaku. Your time at Chelsea has come. Or at least, in my book, it should have.