The Chelsea striker was persona-non-grata last season, which prompted a successful loan move to West Bromwich Albion. To put his spell at the Hawthorns into context, Lukaku scored a second-half hat-trick after coming on as a substitute on the last day to clinch a dramatic 5-5 draw in what was Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,500th and final game in charge of Manchester United.
However, his blistering form for WBA was not enough to convince returning Chelsea boss José Mourinho to keep him at Stamford Bridge this season. In hindsight, Mourinho is probably kicking himself for letting Lukaku go to Everton for the season, especially as he has bemoaned his lack of striking options. Fernando Torres has still to get going in the Premier League while the ageing Samuel Eto’o needs a few chances before he converts one. Demba Ba has hardly had a chance to prove himself.
One man who is not looking back is Lukaku, who has bagged 10 league goals for the Toffees this season. He was also on target in Everton’s 4-1 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal at the weekend. While many players waited for this season’s summer and winter transfer windows in order to find clubs that could all but guarantee them regular playing time, Lukaku will have played regularly in back-to-back seasons.
The Belgian also took his good league form onto the international stage when he scored two individual goals against Croatia to send his country to its first World Cup finals since 2002. Even if Lukaku was dropped and did not kick a ball for the remainder of the Premier League season, he would still be one of the first names on Belgium manager Marc Wilmots’ final squad list for the World Cup in Brazil. It is counter productive to ignore a man in form; especially one who was largely responsible for qualification in the first place. Yet had Lukaku not joined WBA last season, he may not have caught the eye of Everton. Indeed, Lukaku could be languishing in Chelsea’s reserves and the closest he would get to the World Cup is as a stadium spectator or at a barbecue on Copacabana beach.
Even though Mourinho will claim that being in top spot in the Premier League means his decision to allow Lukaku to leave on loan has been vindicated, the Belgian has been vocal about his mistreatment by Chelsea and his love for Everton. Come the summer, Chelsea may find it hard to keep the player, especially if he continues his current form and fires Everton into Europe. Even by pricing the player out of the market, a disgruntled player is not worth keeping, especially for the sake of team morale. With that could come a permanent transfer to another club and a place in the Belgium World Cup squad for the loan ranger.
World Cup Preview is a daily series providing commentary and analysis of the teams and players participating in this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd