It is easy to forget that Romelu Lukaku is just 22 years of age.
The current campaign is the centre-forward’s fifth in English football, and before that he also spent two full seasons playing for Anderlecht in the Belgian Pro League. The striker has already made 197 league appearances in his career and a further 50 in domestic and continental cup competitions, scoring a total of 103 goals for first club Anderlecht, Chelsea, West Bromwich Albion and current side Everton. He is also in possession of 41 international caps, with 11 strikes to his name for Belgium.
It is a remarkable level of experience for someone so young, particularly as all but one of Lukaku’s career league outings have come in the top division. It could also be argued that, because many assume Lukaku is older than he is, they judge him by higher standards than would ordinarily be applied to youngsters in their early 20s.
There is no doubting, though, that the Belgian is a player of exceptional potential. Lukaku has already become one of the Premier League’s top strikers, with seven goals in 12 appearances this season evidence of his goalscoring potential.
His all-round game has come on leaps and bounds, too. In previous years, Lukaku was widely criticised for his poor first touch and underdeveloped back-to-goal play, with his inability to hold the ball up and bring others into the game often leading to his team’s attacks breaking down.
It is an element of his skill set that the 22-year-old has clearly been working on, however; Lukaku loses the ball a lot less easily these days, with his assist count (four already this term compared to five in the whole of 2014/15, six in 2013/14 and four in 2012/13) evidence of the improvements he has made when it comes to combining with team-mates.
It is often said that even the most talented young players need to spend time in the gym to bulk up and avoid being knocked off the ball too easily. With Lukaku, the opposite has been the case: even as a teenager, the physical side of his game was already well-developed, with the technical part the one that needed working on. Pleasingly, the striker’s showings for Everton this term suggest that the latter area of his game is quickly catching up with the former.
“He was raw [when Everton signed him] but you look at potential and we invested heavily,” Toffees manager Roberto Martinez said of the £28 million man after Saturday’s 1-1 draw at West Ham United, in which Lukaku found the back of the net after rounding goalkeeper Adrian and slotting the ball home.
“We could see the type of player he could be and his mentality. He is driven by landmarks and those [goal] statistics are very important. There are no complications and he is getting better. He is very receptive and for me he is a dream.”
Martinez also joked that the burly Belgian was actually worth £55 million after reports emerged earlier that day that the Merseysiders had slapped a £45 million price tag on his head. It remains to be seen whether another club will ever deem the striker worth that amount, but his recent performances have certainly increased his value and, at 22, Lukaku has enough time on his side to get even better.
About the Author – Greg Lea
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.