Everyone calm down. Take a deep breath and read before you decide to come kill me. If you still feel that way after reading, take it out on a cat because I find them useless and no one but that crazy single lady in the apartment down the road will care.
Romelu Lukaku is a player I have gone back forth on about 2342 times since I first saw the
kid man beast in highlight videos. I instantly knew that of the two youngsters Chelsea were supposedly chasing, I would take Lukaku over Neymar without even blinking an eye. Neymar is a narcissistic, diving, weak, ball-hog who I would not like to see in Chelsea colors. Lukaku is a selfless, morally and physically strong, loyal team mate who is exactly what Chelsea need. To an extent. Dubbed “The Next Drogba” at a very young age, Lukaku has not shied away from the title and looks every bit the part to this fan. The question is: does Chelsea have use for another Drogba?
Lukaku is a very gifted individual whose talents outweigh his weaknesses and his potential outweighs everything. He is easily in the conversation for the highest potential in a teenager and still has a year to go before he can no longer be in that category. He has immense passion for soccer, fans, and most of all, clubs. He expressed nothing but gratitude to Anderlecht and still speaks very highly of the club and fans. As everyone knows, moving to Chelsea has been a dream of his for years and he has showed that he is willing to do anything to make his mark at the club. Additionally, he is one of the strongest members of a top-5 team, has great top end speed, enjoys passing and teamwork, is good in the air, etc, etc, etc, so it is fantastic that Chelsea has been able to secure his signature. Add on the fact that Chelsea jumped on Lukaku before he really took off on the national stage when his price would have jumped to the 30-40 mil range we have seen with others (Neymar, Götze, Pastore, Özil, Gyan, etc) and that he will be “homegrown” in 3 years time, there isn’t much not to like about the deal. So what is my issue? I’m not convinced he fits the NEW Chelsea style of play.
Drogba has been the most important Chelsea player of the last 6-7 years and a striker of his style was essential for Chelsea’s 2004-2010 style of play. It was vital for the forward to receive the ball with his back to goal, use strength to hold off defenders, and lay it off for team mates arriving. The forward also needed to be capable of running at players, possess a powerful shot, and an eye for the pass. Drogba fits the bill perfectly and like his mentor, Lukaku has acquired many of the same skills. He can hold defenders off by just standing there, has a very good settling touch for a man his size, and always looks to lay the ball off to his fellow players. However, with Andre Villas-Boas taking over the reigns of the Blues it might not be in Romelu’s best interest to make himself a clone of Didier.
We have all been witnesses to the vast change in Chelsea’s style (which is fantastic) and we have seen how some of the “old guard” have had issues transitioning. AVB does not like any player to dwell on the ball and instead likes the ball to do the work. Quick movement of the ball across the field, along with players rotating in and out of positions is a mainstay of the new Chelsea offense. You could see in Lukaku’s limited action that stamina and positioning has clearly been an issue for the youngster. He is built to not be as mobile as say, Torres, and while he isn’t selfish in that he wants the ball delivered to him, his style begs for it. Instead of running into channels, Lukaku is used to strictly playing in a central position and receiving the ball with his back to goal. While this is something we are seeing Torres do this season, it’s the speed at which this happens that is more important. In AVB’s high tempo offense, the ball must remain in motion so that the defense cannot hone in on an area/player. Checking back to the ball must be done for a purpose as well, not just because you have the ability to do so. Torres checks back to pull a defender with and create space behind for himself or someone running in behind. Lukaku is used to simply using his immense size to create body room around him and exploit that for goals. With bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter defenders in the Premier League, Lukaku cannot rely on this and will need to learn better tactics to be as productive.
Lukaku possesses a very good touch and passing ability for his size, but not for the Premier League. In order to mesh with his team, his passing will have to improve beyond what he is currently producing. As stated before, defenders in the Premier League and faster and smarter and we saw a few of his passes being easily picked off in the Carling Cup. One touch and two touch passing are what AVB likes to see out of his players and Lukaku has never built his game around quick passing. Along with improved passing, Lukaku does not currently possess the foot skills to succeed with Chelsea. As a striker in AVB’s offense, maneuvering in tight spaces and taking players on is needed. Lukaku is more prone to running through people then running around them at this time. Most of his goals at Anderlecht came from out-muscling someone off the ball and putting it away. While this is a fantastic skill for a player to have, it cannot be his only method of scoring. Once again, Romelu’s footwork and agility is exceptional for someone his size, but comparatively, it lacks. He can improve his touch, but his foot speed and agility is something not easily improved and could hold him back from transitioning into the type of striker AVB needs.
None of the above is meant to denounce Lukaku’s ability. It is clear that he has enormous potential and ability already. I believe Lukaku would be starting at 90% of top-flight clubs around the world and already be making his mark. However, soccer is a team game and every player must buy in and fit with the system in order to succeed. Just like Shevchenko didn’t fit Mourinho’s style, Ibrahimovic couldn’t mesh with Barcelona, Robinho failing at Manchester City, and so many other countless examples, some exciting prospects do not flourish. Lukaku at a Chelsea managed by AVB has some symptoms of a train wreck with one major caveat. Romelu Lukaku is 18 and VERY coachable.
The personality of a player cannot be underestimated and Lukaku is the cream of the crop. Humble and hungry, he works hard and understands that he must earn anything he wants. He is not a selfish player and has publically (and privately I’m sure) stated that he will do anything any coach asks of him and will always strive to improve and evolve. At just 18 years old, the Blues coaching staff has one of the best raw talent prospects in the world begging to be molded into a world-class player.
Has Chelsea bought another ShevShankO where his skill-set will not mesh with the current brand of soccer and be shipped out in a few years? Have Chelsea bought a Kalou in a talented youngster who for some reason can’t pick up the few additional abilities needed to become a force? Or, has Chelsea found the future world-class forward that will be a mainstay at Chelsea for the next decade?
I’m mixed between the first and last, but there is not a person on the team I will be rooting harder for (ok, tied with McEachran) to succeed. Agree or strongly disagree, I’m curious how Chelsea fans feel about Lukaku. It’s poll time.