It’s easy to forget that the prolific Romelu Lukaku is only 22 years old. The forward shows strength and maturity beyond his years and, with a goal every two games for Everton, is quickly developing into a world-class striker.
Bill Kenwright and the Everton board made a huge statement of intent by forking out £24 million for the Belgian’s services in 2014. For me it marked a turning point in our club’s history. No longer was Everton a club that consistently punched above their available budget, but now a force with the necessary ambition and funds to challenge the best Premier League sides.
That hefty price tag hasn’t phased the Belgian at all. If anything, I believe it has strengthened his desire to impress on a weekly basis. Lukaku bagged his 50th goal in only 100 appearances against Crystal Palace, a feat that has not been reached at Goodison Park since 1969 by Joe Royle, and it is a long time since the Toffees have been graced by the presence of such a clinical striker. The Belgian keeps on breaking records. Only one Everton player has scored more goals in a calendar year than Lukaku’s 27 in 2015, which was Adrian Heath (28) in 1984, and with four matches remaining before New Year, I am sure that the youngster’s goal tally will exceed that. I was a huge fan of players such as Nikica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe and, although they enjoyed their own spells of form, neither they, nor any other Everton strikers in the past decade, managed to make the impact that Lukaku has.
What can this sudden turn in form be accredited to? Lukaku has already exceeded last season’s 10-goal tally in the Premier League and is well on his way to scoring more than the 15 strikes he managed during the 2013-14 campaign. I have often ranted about Roberto Martinez’s refusal to give young Lukaku a strike partner but the Spaniard is finally experimenting with just that this season. No longer does the Belgian need to play with his back towards goal and go searching for action on the flanks. The switch to playing two up front on occasions has encouraged Lukaku to hunt down loose balls and patrol the channels looking for knock-ons. These are two fundamental parts to a goalscorer’s game and, in my opinion, were a little lacking in Lukaku’s performances of previous seasons.
Watching the talisman impress against Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup, I realised that he has also stepped up his play as a lone striker. Lukaku’s first touch, hold-up play and awareness have all improved and many, including me, have compared the ex-Chelsea man to Didier Drogba. In fact, the Everton man admitted he’s kept in contact with the Ivorian after their time together at Stamford Bridge: “I still speak to Drogba. Me and him we have a really special relationship since day one.”
Another major influence on Lukaku’s fine form has been the added impetus of Gerard Deulofeu, who has been enjoying his own purple patch lately. I found the Spaniard incredibly frustrating during his first spell at the club in 2013-14. He was all show and no product but has since developed a new maturity and resists the temptation of running carelessly at full-backs, trying to trick his way into the penalty area. Deulofeu is now much more likely to ping a pinpoint cross into the box or pick out a divine through ball. The quality of service that the wide man offers is a dream for a striker and there’s no doubt the duo’s link-up play has helped Lukaku progress – tellingly, the Belgian has scored nine of his 11 strikes in the eight league matches that Deulofeu has started this season.
It excites me to think of the potential that Lukaku possesses. His displays over the past couple of months, in particular, show that he is developing into the first-rate striker that many have tipped him to be. I believe that this season will define the Belgian as a player and so far it’s been very, very impressive.