Belgium National Team

Lukaku revelling in West Brom role

After enduring a difficult opening season, Romelu Lukaku is beginning to find his feet away from Stamford Bridge, thank to Steve Clarke. Ben McAleer looks at how the former Anderlecht prodigy is settling in at the Baggies…

It’s difficult to not have a degree of sympathy for Romelu Lukaku. The powerful striker was signed by Chelsea 18 months ago from Anderlecht after rave reviews emanating from Belgium surrounding the capability of a front-man who bore a striking resemblance to Didier Drogba. Unsurprisingly, the teenager was dubbed the natural successor to the Ivory Coast star at Stamford Bridge and despite serious interest from Real Madrid, with head coach Jose Mourinho a huge fan of the 19-year-old, it was the West London outfit who secured his signature ahead of their Spanish counterparts. After spending time with Rupel Boom and Lierse as a youngster, the Paars-wit took Lukaku to the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium as a 13-year-old. Three years later and he was promoted to the first-team, such was his impressive displays in the academy.

41 goals in 98 appearances over the next 36 months prompted Chelsea to part with a fee believed to be around £13m, raising to £18m with add-ons and bonuses. However, his career at Stamford Bridge hasn’t taken the flight that many had expected. Former head coach Andre Villas-Boas was a supposed fan of Lukaku, but the insistence that he play Fernando Torres, as requested by owner Roman Abramovich, saw the Belgian’s impact limited, at best. 12 appearances over the season, and having already played for Anderlecht the year of move, meant the 19-year-old couldn’t spend time on loan, as per FIFA stipulations. On top of that, a return of zero goals meant his initial year at Stamford Bridge was a miserable one.

To no shock of any Blues fan, Lukaku was loaned out to West Bromwich Albion for the season and it’s at the Hawthorns that the Belgium international is finally being handed his chance to shine. While the striker may not be a regular in Steve Clarke’s starting XI just yet with the form of Shane Long, he is certainly one player to make an impact and his nine goals and one assist in 20 appearances, seven of which have come in nine starts for the Baggies, is a testament to this. While finishing may not be his forte, his ability to smash his way through the opposition backline, as Jamie Carragher or Jonny Evans will testify, and hold up play renders him an effective weapon, especially against defences that are beginning to tire.

Such were his performances for the Baggies this season, Chelsea were believed to be contemplating the prospect of bringing him back from his loan spell early, especially at a time when Fernando Torres was under performing. While the rumours proved to be ill-founded, it would be wise for the Blues to allow Lukaku to remain at Hawthorns, until the end of the season at least. At 19, he’s a striker that needs first-team experience and under former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clarke, the Belgian is garnering just that. With the West London signing Demba Ba, the arrival of the Senegal international would see his impact severely limited as well. The temptation to cut his loan spell short, however, certifies his capabilities as a player and it’s evident he’s ticking all the right boxes, as far as Chelsea and the player himself are concerned. If, as expected, Clarke can continue to harness his ability, be it as the primary target man or one that will drop to the flanks and support in the build up play ala Emmanuel Adebayor, Lukaku will only improve over the coming weeks and months. He may not be starting every game week in, week out, usually rotating with teammate Shane Long, but utilising his potential is all pivotal to his future and if the West Brom manager believes he knows what’s best for the ‘New Drogba’, I’m sure the Chelsea coaching staff will trust a man who was previously on the books at the club.

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